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Public Statements

Pacific Command Change of Command

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Thank you very much, General Dempsey. Good morning, ladies and gentleman. It's a great honor to be able to be here. It's always a delight to visit this beautiful state of Hawaii, rain and all. Rain here is not the same as it is elsewhere: there's a different flavor to it.

As you may know, Marty and I have spent the last few weeks in hearings up on Capitol Hill. Fortunately, as Catholics, we believe that after spending a certain amount of time in Purgatory, you're entitled to be able to go to Heaven. Sam Locklear, you may not be Saint Peter, but this about as close to Heaven as you'll get. Sam, Pamela, Bob, Donna, my great Chairman, distinguished guests, Neil Abercrombie, it's great to see you here. Neil and I served in the Congress for a period of time. I always enjoyed that.

Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen: what a great honor to be able to participate in this kind of change of command. This is one of my great honors to have this opportunity every time we do this with a combatant command. Hawaii is not just a beautiful place. It happens to be a historic place of service and sacrifice.

I had the opportunity to visit the U.S.S. Arizona this morning, and I've done that before; with my family, and I had the chance to go there with President Clinton when we celebrated the 50th Anniversary of the end of World War II. I've also had the opportunity to do it with a number of friends. So, I've done it before. But each time I do it, it was deeply moving experience to be thinking of the brave service members stationed here, stationed on that ship, on this island, and who gave their lives for their country on that fateful day some 70 years ago. That sacred memorial reminds all of us who have a special duty to protect this country, to protect America that we must always remain vigilant and aware of potential storm clouds on the horizon, and we must never, never lower our guard. I can't think of a more critical time when the nation needs its very best. Its very best in military experience, in military leadership, in military advice, to be able to confront the challenges and the threats that we face in the world today.

That's why it's truly an honor to join all of you here today to pay tribute to Admiral Willard for his many decades of distinguished service to our nation, to welcome Sam Locklear as he assumes command of Pacific Command, and to recognize the many achievements of the men and women of this, the oldest and largest of our regional commands we have in the U.S. military.

I'd first like to express my thanks to the families of both of these very fine naval officers. I thank Admiral Willard's family, and particularly his wife, Donna, who in addition to enduring the difficulties of being the spouse of a service member for over thirty-eight years, has done so much for Navy spouses. And I thank Admiral Locklear's family, his wife Pamela, and their family. All of whom have provided the support and been willing to go through the pain of long absences and have always been there to be able to support the sacrifices they have made. We appreciate your support and your sacrifices. These jobs are tough and they demand a great deal of sacrifice. But none of us could do these jobs without the love and support of our families.

This has to be a team effort, and every family is part of that team. We simply could not do the job of defending America without you. That support is central to the strength of our armed forces. It underpins everything we do and, indeed, the very security of this nation depends on that love, that sacrifice, that team effort. And so today I want to honor these two special families for the love and sacrifice and support they've provided these two very special men.

Admiral Willard brings to a close a remarkable nearly four-decade career as a naval aviator. It has taken him to every corner of the globe, and to almost every level of command, from a fighter squadron to command of the mighty 7th Fleet, and now the Pacific Command. A proven and very effective leader, he's also served back in Washington on the Joint Staff. A Naval Academy graduate, early in his career he flew the venerable F-14 "Tomcat," and went on to serve as the operations and executive officer of the Navy's elite Top Gun fighter school.

Now I've liked Bob from the very moment I met him -- he's a brilliant and accomplished military officer, he always offers very deep insights into the most pressing security challenges.

But most importantly he and I share a passion for movies. I express my passion by watching a lot of films. And the distances I travel, I always like to be accompanied by Ben Hur, Master & Commander, Gladiator, Casablanca, and just about any movie with John Wayne.

Bob, on the other hand, lives a life right out of the movies. Let me give you a few examples. Since his early days in the Navy, I'm told that he's gone by the call sign "Rat," in honor of the movie Willard. Bob also achieved a bit of fame when he served as the aerial coordinator for the movie Top Gun and had a cameo flying a Soviet MiG against Maverick and Goose. Now I hear there are rumors that they are thinking about making a Top Gun sequel, which has me wondering whether Bob has a plan to reprise his role and do it in retirement. Bob, I've gotta warn you about taking this on at your ageĀ… you might be writing checks your body can't cash.

Bob's accomplishments, his strategic vision, and his very plain spoken manner made him an outstanding leader here in the Asia-Pacific. This strategically vital theater is important; this pivotal moment in history when America's future, in many ways, depends on the peace and prosperity of the Asia Pacific region. It is a region filled with incredible opportunities for this nation -- in the realm of political, economic, and security relationships that could significantly impact on the security and stability of our future.

And when I look across the world at the threats and challenges we face as a nation, from terrorism to natural disasters, the proliferation of weapons of nuclear destruction, rogue nations and rising powers in the Pacific, this region has them all. Merely operating in the vast expanse of the Asia-Pacific poses daunting operational and logistical challenge. Challenges to being able to deploy and sustain our forces. Yet no matter what the challenge, no matter how daunting a calamity, no matter how tense the stand-off between nations, PACOM has always delivered, has always been there when our allies needed them most, and has always excelled.

In this region, we don't just need a great warrior. We also happen to need in a commander, a great diplomat. Bob demonstrated the power of relationships, how to turn those relationships into partnerships, and how to turn those partnerships into alliances, and how to turn those alliances into true and lasting friendships. He has strengthened long-standing alliances with old friends like Australia, Japan, and the Republic of Korea. He's built new partnerships with countries like Thailand, Indonesia, and the Philippines. The United States has long been the security partner of choice in the Pacific region -- and thanks to Bob's leadership of PACOM, our country's important role as a Pacific power has not only endured, it has grown stronger.

We have stayed vigilant and committed to the defense of the Republic of Korea during a time of transition on that Peninsula. We've reassured our friends and allies that we are committed to the Pacific by enhancing our presence across Asia. We have established new rotational deployments of our Marines in Australia, we have forward stationed our Littoral Combat Ships in Singapore, and we are exploring options for enhancing cooperation with the Philippines. PACOM has also worked to restore and build those very important mil-to-mil relationships with China. Under Admiral Willard's leadership, and thanks to the commitment, dedication, and hard work of the more than 300,000 men and women of PACOM are being strongly led. We have made clear that we are a Pacific power and we will be there as a partner, as an ally, and as a friend.

As a major part of our Pacific family nothing confirms that family relationship more than with Japan. As we approach the one-year anniversary of Operation Tomodachi, our relief operations in response to the Japanese earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear emergency, we approach it with respect and thanks for men and women of PACOM and the leadership of Admiral Willard in those operations. I had the opportunity to visit Japan last year, and I heard directly from the Japanese people the gratitude that they had for our personnel who were involved in that massive undertaking, who were delivering supplies, who were conducting search and rescue, and evacuating the injured. PACOM helped Japan, a true friend, to stand back up and stand back strongly after they had been knocked down. In doing so this entire command, the team operating under an extraordinary leader, made all Americans very proud. You brought great honor and great distinction to our great military, Bob, and I thank you for that.

Bob, this Department, and this country, owes you and Donna an extraordinary debt for your tireless efforts to ensure that our men and women in uniform got what they needed to accomplish their missions. Donna, I especially want to thank you for your many years of service and support of our Navy spouses and for helping the families of those you led, the families that you were part of.

It is our good fortune to that the military has a great bench, and it is our good fortune that we have another great leader, Admiral Sam Locklear who will take charge at PACOM. Admiral Locklear has served as the Commander, U.S. Naval Forces Europe while he concurrently served as Commander, U.S. Naval Forces Africa and NATO's Commander of the Allied Joint Force Command Naples. His leadership of Allied efforts in Libya puts him in good standing to come to this region and manage its complexities, competing interests, the many nations that are part of our family in the Pacific, and to do that with the same even-keeled approach for which he's known.

In my former capacity I believe I participated in almost in all of the meetings with the President on Libya. And even though there was a lot of concern at that time that this operation was going to work, whether or not these countries could come together, whether or not they could operate together, whether or not they could develop targets, whether or not they could hit those targets, I have to tell you that because of Sam Locklear's leadership he brought NATO together. He brought them together for a successful operation that took down Qadhafi and freed the Libyan people. This was an incredibly complex mission and it took an awful lot of leadership to make it work; eighteen countries were involved in that operation. And yet, he did it with distinction, with honor, and cool leadership. And yet Sam has always handled these kinds of situations with that same coolness, calmness, and sense of control, and in doing that, helped accomplish the mission.

Last October, I had the opportunity to visit Admiral Locklear in Naples. I had a chance to visit that operation center and again, I can't tell you how remarkable it was to be there and see how that operation was put together. I'm confident that he is prepared to handle one of the military's most demanding jobs with the same coolness, calmness, and sense of control. His past experiences will serve him well as he takes command. Pamela, I know you're going to have to endure another hardship tour here in this rough spot, going from Naples to Honolulu. But take it from a fellow Italian, a glass of wine, a little pasta, and you'll be fine. We wish Admiral Locklear and we wish his wife Pamela all success in this new command.

Bob and Donna, I wish you the very best as you begin this next chapter in your lives.

In closing, let me note that these changes of command make me very proud of the military and of our country. It is not just the millions of young men and women who take the oath who fight, and yes die, for America. It's also the very strong and capable leaders like Admiral Willard and Admiral Locklear to lead them into battle. This morning when I was at the USS Arizona, I had the opportunity to preside over the re-enlistments of some of our servicemen, members of a new greatest generation of Americans, a generation willing to carry forth the legacy of serving and fighting for this great country, fighting for a better world. They are the ones who carry the torch forward, carry the torch that their forefathers fought for at Pearl Harbor and in the great campaigns of the Pacific War and in every war. The torch of freedom, torch of courage, the torch of duty.

They had a great leader in Bob Willard, they now have a great new leader in Sam Locklear. May God bless them, God bless this command, and God bless the United States of America.


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