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U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)
News Transcript

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates March 23, 2007

Remarks By Secretary Of Defense Robert Gates At A Change Of Command Ceremony With Admiral Timothy Keating And Lieutenant General Victor Renuart Jr Northcom, at Peterson Air Force Base Colorado Springs, Colorado


SEC. GATES: Thank you. I would echo General Hillier's comments. It's a pleasure to be here with you today. It's a pleasure to be anywhere but Washington. (Laughter.)

It is good to see members of the Diplomatic Corps, Mayor Rivera and other civic and community leaders who are with us today and a special welcome to the members of the Keating and Renuart families.

It is an honor to be here to welcome General Renuart to NORTHCOM and NORAD and an honor to recognize Admiral Keating's achievements in this command before he takes his next assignment.

NORTHCOM has come a long way in just a few years. When I left government 14 years ago, this command center didn't even exist, and few people were thinking seriously about the types of threats we face today. As an old Cold Warrior, though, I was well aware of NORAD's vital role in our strategic nuclear defense. In fact, not many people know that my first job out of college was as an officer at a ballistic missile facility at Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri.

Because of my academic background and very moderate Russian language skills, I was asked to do briefings on our wing's strategic Minuteman missile targets, which brought me into early contact with high-ranking officers. I recall one briefing in particular. I was explaining our target set to an Air Force lieutenant general who I would characterize as a cigar-chomping Curtis LeMay wannabe. (Laughter.)

When I told him that 120 of our 150 missiles were aimed at Soviet ICBMs, he blew up with many expletives I will delete, and said it was an outrage that we would be hitting only empty silos instead of killing Russians. He demanded that I, Second Lieutenant Gates, rewrite the nuclear targeting plan. (Laughter.) Never has so much been asked of so few with so little ability to carry out the order! (Laughter.)

Time certainly has changed, and happily so, of our military flag officers. In a speech last year, Admiral Keating talked about the awesome responsibility our young men and women in uniform have in today's strategic environment. "They are," he said, "warrior diplomats; the embodiment not only of America's foreign policy, but of our nation's values."

I certainly would second that. But I would add that the values of the American military -- honor, duty, patriotism -- start at the top. They start with men like Tim Keating, who likes to say, "In defending our homeland, we find the better we do our job, the less likely folks will notice, and that's how it should be." That speaks to an ethos of grace and humility that has guided Admiral Keating throughout his career.

Admiral Keating has had numerous key assignments: commanding a carrier group in the Pacific, leading U.S. Navy forces in the Middle East. But I think he would tell you that leading NORTHCOM has been his most important, because we learned on September 11th that the fundamental nature of man has not changed; that we still live in a dangerous world. And so we must remain vigilant and prepared.

U.S. Northern Command, which was stood up in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, acts as the command center responsible for protecting the security and integrity of the homeland. Its duties include planning for and responding to natural disasters, missile defense, border security, and coordinating to protect against terrorist attacks at events ranging from the State of the Union address to the Super Bowl. It is a difficult balancing act to protect the United States from external threats as well as deal with internal emergencies, and to do so within the bounds of our laws and the Constitution. Under Admiral Keating's leadership, NORTHCOM has done both well.

Consider this command's response to Hurricane Katrina, which devastated some 90,000 square miles, an area roughly the size of Great Britain. Within hours of the hurricane's landfall, NORTHCOM was already running operations, operations that quickly grew to 22,000 active duty servicemen in theater, more than 300 helicopters doing search and rescue, and at least 20 ships.

The ability to direct complex missions, and especially the ability to coordinate among many competing interests, will be of special importance at Pacific Command, an area that includes more than 70 nations and territories. Of course, Tim now knows a thing or two about diplomacy. Having to deal with 50 governors and their adjutants general is at times like dealing with 50 miniature heads of state, commanders in chief and defense secretaries all rolled into one.

I'd like to mention a group of people that don't receive as much publicity as they should, the families of officers like Admiral Keating. This is a difficult job in the best of times, and it would be impossible without the support and understanding of a loving family. Wandalee, thank you for being there all these years. I know everyone at NORTHCOM will miss you. I also want to thank Admiral Keating's children, Dan and Julie, and of course, the grandchildren, Lauren (sp), Joy (sp) and Matthew (sp).

Dan, and Julie's husband, Paul, are both F-18 pilots, and both have flown combat missions in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. They certainly have a good role model in Admiral Keating, but they have a lot of work ahead of them if they want to match his 5,000 flight hours and 1,200 arrested landings.

We are truly blessed to have a family that has given so much to our nation. Admiral Keating, thank you for your service. I wish you and your family fair winds and following seas.

And as luck would have it, I get to extol Admiral Keating's virtues all over again on Monday -- (laughter) -- in Hawaii to mark his assumption of Pacific Command.

Admiral Keating's successor, General Renuart, is well prepared to lead this command. He has seen combat on the ground and from afar and has proven to be one of the military's most seasoned and effective leaders. He commanded the 76th Fighter Squadron during the first Gulf War and has flown combat missions in Operations Desert Storm, Deny Flight, Northern Watch and Southern Watch.

One of his staffers mentions that one reason Gene is so proud of his Audi is probably because it's faster than the plane of his choice, the A-10 Warthog -- (laughter) -- regarded as the slowest, ugliest plane in the Air Force, and the best friend a soldier or Marine could have in a close fight.

More recently, Gene served as director of operations for Central Command, during the planning and execution of the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, a position where he oversaw all joint and allied combat missions, humanitarian assistance and reconstruction operations.

He's also served as director of strategic plans and policy for the Joint Staff. In that capacity, he worked closely with the National Security Council and the State Department to offer direction and guidance on a variety of issues, including building the capacities of partner nations, strategic communications and outreach, international negotiations and many of the long war issues that are so important in the ongoing battle against jihadist terror in the Middle East and across the globe. Aside from that, with all the personal memorabilia he's managed to fit into his office at the Pentagon, I think he officially curates the smallest United States Air Force museum in the nation. (Laughter.)

Gene, I hope all this talk about the challenges and responsibilities of NORTHCOM hasn't scared you off. Of course, if your most recent assignment as senior military assistant to the secretary of Defense hasn't done that, I doubt anything will. Thank you for your help in getting me acclimated to life at the Pentagon. I wish you and Jill the best of luck with your new assignment. The security of our homeland is in good hands. Thank you. (Applause.)

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