Secretary of Defense
U.S. Transportation Command Assumption of Command
Scott Air Force Base, Illinois
Let’s just pause a moment before we get started. Look at this magnificent day, look at this magnificence in front of us, you all who stand here so proudly, and represent the wonderful, wonderful men and women who protect this country, what a magnificent sight. And we’re so, so proud of you. What a wonderful sight that is.
Ladies and gentlemen, distinguished guests, elected officials, leaders of the Defense Department, colleagues, I’m honored to be with you today as one of our finest military leaders, General Darren McDew, assumes this critically important command.
Before I speak to General McDew’s remarkable leadership or the work of this remarkable command, I want to offer my appreciation to Vice Admiral Andy Brown, who’s held down the fort here…where is he…there you are…who’s held down the fort here since General Selva joined us at the Pentagon. He probably didn’t know what he was in for, but Admiral Brown has done such a good job that I decided to make him the J4 back there. Now, I’m not really sure he wants to come from here to there, but we’re going to be very glad to have him.
And of course, we’ve come here today to mark a pivotal moment in the long and distinguished career of one our most accomplished military leaders, General Darren McDew.
From his earliest years – from teachers who told him they were sure he would make a difference, to leaders at the Virginia Military Institute who named him Regimental Commander – General McDew has been recognized by others for his commitment to serve. And for more than three decades in the Air Force, whether at the squadron, wing, or group wing level, General McDew has stood out for his uncommon ability to lead.
General McDew brings to this command an understanding of military logistics from the inside out. He’s a tested operator who’s logged more than 3,000 hours on tankers, C-17s, and C-130s. He’s delivered critical supplies to soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines on several continents. What’s more, serving as a military aide to the President and as Vice Director of Strategic Plans at the Pentagon, he developed a keen strategic understanding of the judicious and effective use of American power.
But those who have served alongside General McDew or under his command may understand best what sets him apart. That’s his commitment to the enrichment and development of our military’s most valuable asset, our people.
General McDew says that so much of his wisdom and strength comes from what he calls his “better 98%,” his wife Evelyn, who’s here today – I have one of those too, it’s more like 99.1% in my case. General McDew has described Evelyn as his foundation, as his source of inspiration, as the person who keeps him attuned to what truly matters most: family and country, service and sacrifice.
These are the values that Darren and Evelyn have passed down to their own family, to their daughter Keisha, and their son, Keith, who serves as a Lieutenant Commander in the Coast Guard. Keith, I might add, is also the proud father on Darren’s first grandchild, Henry, who made his first plane trip to be with us today. There’s Henry over there in the sunglasses.
As General McDew assumes this vital command, he follows in the footsteps of another proven strategic mind, General Paul Selva. That the President has nominated some of our most distinguished military leaders to assume this command speaks volumes about the vital importance of TRANSCOM and its people. While the men and women of TRANSCOM do not often receive the recognition they deserve, truly they are the foundation of everything we do. You provide our force the flexibility and mobility to confront any threat, in any place, for the purpose of our choosing.
Much of TRANSCOM’s strength comes from its ability to evolve and adapt, to respond quickly to new challenges and meet new demands. I saw that firsthand in the support we provided for our men and women in Afghanistan when I directed the Department’s acquisition, technology, and logistics efforts. As many of you know very well, Afghanistan is some of the most forbidding terrain imaginable. It is one of the most difficult places in the world to plan and wage a war. And yet, we were able to surge forces and build hundreds of FOBs and COPs during a period of heated conflict. I used to call this the Afghanistan miracle – but meeting tomorrow’s challenges will require another logistical miracle. Preparing to meet threats from our high-end adversaries will require major logistical lift.
As the force continues to undergo a strategic transition, as we reduce our focus on counter-insurgency and place more emphasis on full spectrum, rapid-response capabilities, TRANSCOM’s ability to reform and innovate will become more critical.
Already, TRANSCOM has improved its capacity to track deliveries in real time and predict with greater accuracy the arrival of shipments. These reforms have allowed our forces in the field to plan more effectively and efficiently, and have helped to bring costs down. TRANSCOM has also strengthened and streamlined its efforts with private sector providers. And today, there is no other part of our military enterprise that is more effectively augmented by commercial industry – and to those partners here today, thank you for being part of the team. By finding new ways to use existing commercial infrastructure, and by spurring greater competition among private sector partners, TRANSCOM continues to make our operations more cost-effective.
TRANSCOM’s commitment to expand these reforms remains vitally important, because as we deliver for the warfighter, we have an obligation to deliver value for the taxpayer as well. When the men and women of TRANSCOM continue to meet these dual commitments, it’s much easier for me to make a full-throated argument in Washington for greater investment in our people and capabilities.
In the next few weeks I’ll be talking quite a bit about the critical need for future investments in our force, the need to get a budget from Congress that charts a responsible course and invests in you. As distant as these conversations in Washington may appear to what’s happening in Southern Illinois, this is a discussion that matters deeply to TRANSCOM, to Belleville, Illinois, and to our entire country. If we can’t come together and pass a sensible budget, if we’re forced to operate under a continuing resolution, or to endure another bout of sequestration, there will be real consequences. And TRANSCOM will feel them firsthand. Because when we’re forced to make irresponsible cuts, it’s readiness that suffers first. When we’re forced to budget one year at a time, it’s investment in the future and modernization that gets sacrificed.
What you’re able to deliver so quickly and consistently can seem like magic to outsiders. But you know, and your families know, that it only happens because of the thousands of Americans within this Command who remain absolutely devoted to our mission. When every day you do what it takes to deliver for our warfighters, Washington needs to deliver a responsible future budget for you.
Just think for a moment about some of what you’ve accomplished in a little more than a year. It was the men and women of TRANSCOM who enabled the United States to lead a global effort to contain Ebola in West Africa. It was the men and women of TRANSCOM who allowed the United States to provide urgent relief to Yazidis on Mount Sinjar, helping save some 20,000 lives. And it was because of the men and women of TRANSCOM, that when an earthquake struck Nepal, we could deliver 70,000 pounds of supplies for rescue operations in less than 24-hours. With these missions, and through countless others that receive far less fanfare, you ensure that American power and the power of our example can reach anywhere, and is seen everywhere.
None of us know when the United States will have to respond quickly to even greater crises in the coming months or where your capabilities will be needed to save lives, defend our country, and make a better world. But this we do know: We know General McDew will lead this Command with confidence and certainty and with the total confidence of me and the President. We know the people of TRANSCOM will carry forward a steadfast commitment to deliver what our force requires, whenever, wherever they require it. We know that it is because of these capabilities and your contributions that we remain the military force the world has ever known.