Secretary of Defense
Remarks at Commandant of the Marine Corps Passage of Command
Marine Barracks, Washington, D.C.
Good morning. Ladies and gentlemen, distinguished guests, family, friends – and the men and women in uniform before us today who give meaning to this hallowed ceremony – thank you for being here to honor General Joe Dunford’s service as our 36th Commandant, and to welcome Bob Neller to his new post as 37th Commandant of the United States Marine Corps.
First and foremost, Ellyn: you’ve been Joe’s rock-solid foundation for more than three decades. Your support for our wounded warriors and our military families is more than dutiful – it’s personal. I see that all the time. Every family hosted at that magnificent Home of the Commandant leaves knowing the Dunfords are family, too. Ellyn was settling in, joyfully, to her duties as the Commandant’s wife, but the president and I had a different calling for her and Joe. And I’m grateful for her forbearance. My wife Stephanie, who also loves the troops, thanks you too.
And you, Joseph, Pat, Kathleen have shared that warm support with countless others.
To Joe’s parents – Mr. and Mrs. Dunford – thank you for your service, your sacrifice. Joe says he’s a Marine because of his dad, and he says he’s disciplined because of the “drill instructor” in the family…that’s you, mom.
We can’t thank you all enough, now and into the future…because we’re not done with Joe yet.
He was the first and obvious choice to lead our force as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs – and I speak for everyone when I say how fortunate we are that Joe’s counsel and wisdom will continue to guide our nation’s security for years to come.
Today, we celebrate Joe’s leadership as Commandant – knowing it’s only a snapshot of what he’s meant to the Marine Corps.
During the early years of the Iraq War, Joe commanded the 5th Marine Regiment. One Marine recalled that “every time there was a rough situation, Colonel Dunford was in his Humvee – out in front.” Another tells how Joe refused armor inserts in his flak jacket until every Marine under his command was issued a pair.
Another Marine said just being around Joe was “awe-inspiring,” saying Joe is both, quote, “a brilliant tactician and the most humble individual I’ve ever known…he loves his men; and he’s loved by his men.”
Perhaps the most telling testimonial came from an officer who served with Joe in 2003 and in the first Battle of Fallujah in 2004: “someday,” he said, “I will tell my grandkids that I was one of Joe Dunford’s Lieutenants.”
These Marines’ say more than any of us could about the character and leadership of this great man. Humble. Driven to excellence. Always faithful to his people and mission…wielding [the] operational acuity of a battle hardened commander and the strategic wisdom of a statesman.
We saw that – I saw that – clearly during Joe’s time leading U.S. and allied troops as the NATO ISAF Commander: we saw his compassion in handwritten condolences sent to families of the fallen…we saw his tenacity in the way he managed dealing with President Karzai…and we saw his skillfulness in transitioning security responsibility to Afghan Forces. During that time, and over the past 14 years, in two complex, all-consuming wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, our Marines performed spectacularly.
Today, the Marine Corps is at the center of a great strategic transition in our military: emerging from 15 years of counterinsurgency and strength in presence…to preparing for a full spectrum of threats, where we remain overwhelmingly strong in posture, not only in presence.
In a way – that’s what Marines have always done. Answering the call across the full range of military operations. No one understands that better than Joe.
And in his short but significant tenure, the Marine Corps has sharpened its air-ground task force capability, improved leadership development and care, and has remained the world’s pre-eminent expeditionary force-in-readiness … answering any call, anytime, anywhere on earth.
Ebola in Africa. An earthquake in Nepal. An embassy evacuation in Yemen. Our counter-ISIL campaign in the Middle East. Our Marines are always there – keeping America, and the world, safer.
To be ready, always – that’s what makes Marines, Marines. Joe Dunford has kept us on that path…and Bob Neller is the right person to carry us forward. I want to take a moment to thank D’Arcy, Kurt, Brett, Clare for their steadfast support through countless moves and deployments. Of course, we can’t forget Bob’s grandson, Conner…Is Conner here? Hi Conner – he is. I hear the only title Bob takes more seriously than General Neller is Grandpa Neller.
Bob too is a tested warrior and an innovative strategist – never hesitating to act, always planning ahead. Like Bob says, “if we want to win, we can’t just show up.” I agree.
Bob’s leadership will be help us stay ahead…in keeping our Marines the world’s unrivaled expeditionary rapid response force…and in building the Force of the Future, where we continue to be the best by attracting and retaining the best America has to offer.
Because above all, it’s our people that make America’s the finest fighting force the world has ever known. Bob lives by that truth.
During his J3 days Bob and I traveled together around the country and around theater. I got to know Bob and I saw many of the traits that suggested to me that he become our next Commandant. But I saw especially his greatest trait – the trait that compels him to serve and defines his character, and that’s his love for the troops...beneath that gruff exterior is a tender heart for the troops.
Whenever he talks to them, whenever he talks to them, he lights up, and they light up too. On Bob’s right wrist, is a black cuff etched with the name “Eric R. Lueken,” a young Marine Corporal killed in Iraq in 2006. Bob says it reminds him every day to “be a General. Make a decision. Do something. Make it better.”
As Commandant, that’s exactly what Bob will do. Because that’s what our Marines have done, and will continue to do… always proud, always ready, always faithful.
To Ellyn, D’Arcy, Dunford and Neller families – and to the two patriots we honor here today – for your continued service and leadership, our country is grateful.