Remarks by Secretary Mattis at Change of Command Ceremony

Secretary of Defense James N. Mattis


SECRETARY OF DEFENSE JAMES N. MATTIS: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen, buenas tardes, and Admiral Tidd, Admiral Faller, Gen. Dunford, Mrs. Dunford, to all of the chiefs of defense, the diplomats, from the many representatives across the region, a hardy welcome to you here, and certainly to the members of the SOUTHCOM team to whom we owe so much.

Thank you all for joining us, as we honor Admiral Tidd's tenure as commander of U.S. Southern Command, and welcome Admiral Faller as he takes command. It's a special welcome, I would say, to their families.

In that case, Eileen, thank you for providing a steady anchor for Admiral Tidd, your shipmate, as he distinguished himself over four decades of service to our Navy, and to our nation.

And to your daughters, to Katie and Jackie, it's good to see you here skipping a day of school. Well done to both of you.

I'm somewhat a master of that and admire your initiative. I just know that your dad couldn't have done it without your support either. And I think all of the months and years your dad was away, we thank you for, nonetheless, how you turned out during this (inaudible) Naval journey of life that you've already led.

Similarly to Admiral Faller's wife, Martha, thank you for not beating me with a baseball bat as I assigned you one more tour.

To your daughters, Jess and Abbie, it's to Craig's credit, ladies, that he recognizes what I would call the instrumental role that you have all played with your mother, and the sacrifices you made in a life characterized by long absences of your father.

And, Martha, thank you again for signing on for yet another tour. We do recognize the burden that we place on the families. And you represent all of the families here today.

Although I think you might find in your case Miami is a bit refreshing after Washington. And I don't mean just the weather. (Laughter.)

As you know, Martha, I stand here today losing your husband; but with mixed emotions to be out of Washington, I'm so happy I could cry.

You can tell a lot about a person, ladies and gentlemen, by the company he keeps. And Admiral Tidd would be the first to tell you his proudest career accomplishments are the friendships he has forged and he had fostered across both services lines and country lines.

The size and diversity of today's gathering serves as a testament to those friendships, making clear as Admiral Tidd lives up to his reputation as a tried and true partner to our neighbors.

Lately I've spent a bit of time among our neighbors to the south, traveling to Brazil, to Argentina, to Chile and Colombia in August, as well as engaging with our northern and southern hemispheric colleagues and partners at the Conference of the Defense Ministers of the Americas in Cancun last month, where Mexico hosted us with traditional warm Mexican hospitality.

I came back from those trips convinced of something that we today know so well here in this room, that there is more in this hemisphere that binds us together than drives us apart. At every stop I made, our partnership demonstrated what I would call, a natural fit marked by the innate friendliness between our peoples, and that's not just the Chilean and Argentinean wine talking.

The friendliness and attentive respect are bolstered by our regions' shared values and the cultural ties, resilient friendships that buttress us against the usual ups and downs inherent to international relations, and they provide us common ground on which we meet.

Now to some who looked around the globe, the last two years may have seemed like bad ones for democracy, but not so when I look at our hemisphere. From Ottawa to Buenos Aires to Santiago, we increasingly find an island of hemispheric opportunity and democratic stability amidst and churning and ever-changing global sea. And our fortunate, forward-looking hemisphere has made strides not only democratically, but also economically and militarily.

As the political dimension matures and economic headwinds are encountered, our hemisphere's militaries can be stabilizing forces, especially when we collaborate to protect our people's from Mother Nature's storms and manmade insults to civilization, whether they be terrorism, drug trafficking, or other security threats.

The United States prides itself of mutual respect with our neighbors, teamwork and stable military relationships with all the nations in the region, except for those suffering under the unfortunate and irresponsible leadership in Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela, with their anti-democratic, autocratic domination of their citizens, who truly deserve better.

There is nothing more indicative of U.S. commitment to regional stability and bolstering of people-to-people ties in the U.S. Naval ship Comfort's mission or hospital ships' mission to aid Venezuelan refugees fleeing their crisis-racked nation, alongside 10 partner nations and six non-governmental organizations assisting. We are sending doctors, not bombers, to help limit human suffering, and we all -- are all better for this partnership.

In supporting this effort and other initiatives, Admiral Tidd has proven himself a trusted partner to our neighbors. In looking at the hearty stock this shipmate comes from, it's easy to see where he learned his dependable character.

His father, a fellow Naval surface warfare officer, served as Admiral Tidd's lifelong role model for military service, while his mother, the epitome of grace and resilience, served as the family's glue through three wars and countless moves.

This example of service left its mark, inspiring Admiral Tidd and his brother to don the sailor's uniform. I note the legacy of service continues with Admiral Tidd's wife, a military physician, and daughter, a cadet at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy.

Admiral Tidd brought his commitment to service to bear here at SOUTHCOM, building trusted relationships on a firm foundation of respect for others and mutual understanding. He recognized that people-to-people ties are the true bridge to effective military cooperation, buttressing our nation's regional diplomacy through his tireless efforts as he acted in concert with so many of you who honor us with your presence here today.

As those he's led know well, Admiral Tidd never met a good idea he wouldn't try. His flexibility, his willingness to experiment and constant quest to learn and improve served the command well as he strove to make it more integrated, more responsive to our neighbors, and more focused on building trust between our militaries, for trust is the coin of the realm among military leaders in this hemisphere.

As a result, SOUTHCOM is now better positioned to counter trans-regional -- transnational threat networks, prepare and respond to natural disasters, and to promote military professionalism and military-to-military exchanges across the region.

Admiral Tidd, looking back over your devotion to our nation, from your first shipboard assignment on the USS Sims to your nearly three years at this command post, the U.S. Navy does not take lightly the loss of an Old Goat and Old Salt, two honors you earned in long service to this American experiment in democracy.

So on behalf of the department, you depart our rank with our gratitude knowing you leave your team in expert hands. Thank you for a job well done. (Applause.)

And, Admiral Faller – Admiral Faller, as we bid Admiral Tidd Godspeed in opening his next chapter, we welcome you to the helm. With 35 years as a Naval officer under your belt, most of it at sea and on foreign shores, you bring extensive military experience, serving with foreign partners, from the Mideast to the Indo-Pacific to the Atlantic, as you assume your duties as helmsman of the U.S. military efforts to our south.

You are charged with taking this command to the next level, building on the trusted relationships Admiral Tidd cultivated and strengthening our ties with our respected partners who we live alongside.

I have every confidence you will do just that carrying out your duties with the honor, grit, teamwork, and skill you have demonstrated every day throughout your career. Thank you very much. (Applause.)