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Gen. Dempsey's Remarks at Secretary Panetta's Farewell Ceremony

By As Delivered by General Martin E. Dempsey, Joint Base Myer Henderson Hall, Washington, D.C.
Mr. President, Secretary and Mrs. Panetta, Ambassadors, Members of Congress, men and women of the Armed Forces of the United States, especially our wounded warriors … and of course, we cannot forget Bravo. I was actually hoping Bravo would be out there for the inspection of the troops, but apparently Uncle Jeremy thought differently.

It’s an honor to be here for this event. We’re all here to show our profound respect and thanks to Secretary Panetta.

I recall the play “The Tempest”, kind of a nice metaphor for the past few months, I think, Mr. Secretary. And I like to think of you as the Prospero of Public Service. Like Shakespeare’s Italian Duke, the Secretary has used his “arts” to imbue a sense of public service in generations of men and women.

And like that knowledgeable Duke, he now asks us to “let our indulgences set [him] free.”

Of course, Secretary Panetta could not have served so well and faithfully for so long without the invaluable and untiring support of his family.

And Sylvia – we thank you for your selfless service that made your husband’s contributions possible. (Applause)

It’s clear that Secretary Panetta has mastered the balance of service and self.

Last weekend on “Meet the Press”, NBC’s Chuck Todd played a clip of you from 1989, and you’ve barely changed. I’m sure that your Mediterranean diet has helped – the olive oil for your skin, the garlic for your heart, and the red wine for pretty much everything else! (Laughter)

You speak often of your Italian heritage. And it’s no secret that your Mother wanted you to be a concert pianist.

So it’s fitting that on this day in 1908, Sergei Rachmaninoff premiered his Symphony No 2 in St. Petersburg, Russia.

Now Rachmaninoff was a technical pianist. History records that he rarely missed a note despite his complex compositions.

But you chose to use your hands to orchestrate other kinds of efforts. You worked both ends of Pennsylvania Ave. You and Sylvia advocated and instructed for the purity of public service.

And then, the nation called again. And you answered again.

For the past four years, you have led those in the intelligence and defense communities – those trusted with protecting our nation and our families. You have led the fight for the proper amount of resources. You balanced the threat of external attack with the threat of internal insolvency.

You once said that “diversity in America is as old as this nation itself.” But you did more than speak about it.

You took action.

You have ensured that our forces will be able to draw upon the very best this nation has to offer.

You have overseen the fielding of new commands and necessary capabilities to meet the threats of tomorrow.

And, you have demonstrated a steadfast commitment to our families and to our troops wherever they are in the world. Your many trips to Afghanistan dedicate that only too well.

And tonight, when I depart for the winter snows of Kabul, I’ll carry your steadfast support to those troops. And I’ll be thinking about you and the potential that at some point in the future, you’ll enjoy that warm California sun.

Actually, I’ve been thinking about what you’ll do after you give up public service.

You’ve spoken before of wanting to write a book. Given all that you’ve seen and done, it could actually be a Tom Clancy novel. But here’s some advice … get it cleared first. (Laughter)

I can only imagine that you might be influenced by a fellow “changeless” Monterey notable, John Steinbeck. He described in vivid detail the gritty life of immigrants, farm workers, and ne’er-do-wells in California.

In the little time I’ve had in the past few days, I thought of a few alternate titles for your parable about the individual and the institution. So here goes.

Instead of East of Eden, yours could be East of the Potomac. Or, instead of the Grapes of Wrath, I might humbly suggest the Nuts of Acedia … As a Catholic, you recall of course “acedia” is the Latin for boredom, and your time with us has been anything but boring.

You could then convert one of those bestsellers into a movie.

I hear James Gandolfini is available to portray you again as he did in Zero Dark Thirty.

You realize of course that even in his role as Tony Soprano, you were an influence. His underboss was, after all, Paulie “Walnuts” Gaultieri …

But while Gandolfini had to wear a wig to play you – I understand he had to apologize to you for that – he accurately captured that Italian-American spirit.

It’s a spirit of service. For those nearly five decades, you’ve never yielded to cynicism. You’ve always believed in the goodness of governing well. And your character and competence have set the example.

In 2009, you told the graduating class of the University of Maryland to “go forward, knowing that you are greater than the challenges of your time.”

Mr. Secretary, you have made our nation safer.

You have made our men in uniform and women stronger.

And, you have prepared us to meet the challenges ahead … in our time ... and in the future.

For that, you’ve earned our eternal esteem.

Ladies and gentlemen, it’s now my great honor to introduce our Commander in Chief, President Barack Obama. (Applause)