Remarks by Acting Secretary Shanahan at U.S. Special Operations Command Change of Command Ceremony, Tampa, Florida
Acting Secretary Of Defense Patrick M. Shanahan
ACTING SECRETARY OF DEFENSE PATRICK M. SHANAHAN: All right. Good afternoon, everybody. It's great to be here in Tampa, and rub elbows with the remarkable men and women of U.S. Special Operations Command, and getting to see the sun isn't bad either. (Laughter.)
It's especially meaningful to spend time with our men and women in uniform on this particular day as our country commemorates our Vietnam War Veterans Day and thanks all those who sacrificed.
My father was one of those who served in Vietnam. His quiet dedication to our country typifying that of an entire, incredible generation. Those who serve today stand on their shoulders.
Representative Castor, former Congressman Murphy, Director Haspel, Mayor Buckhorn, Chairman Dunford, General Milley, the SOCOM team, all distinguished guests from both near and far, including many foreign partners, thank you for joining us. Tony Thomas and Rich Clarke really know how to draw a crowd. I see the long grey line has marched south, or maybe they came for spring break. (Laughter.)
Either way, the classes of '80 and '84 are here to support their classmates.
What a testament to your loyalty and lifelong friendships. Thank you.
I'd also like to give special recognition to the SOF Wounded Warriors here today, and I ask everyone, including those watching at home, to send a prayer for the members of our SOCOM community who are not here today, those deployed across the globe. May they come home safe.
We are here to pass the baton from General Thomas to General Clarke. As we say farewell to a leader who has contributed so much to this community, we welcome a new commander who will ensure our special operators continue to plan, conduct and support critical missions in a dangerous world at a demanding pace. A special -- special thank you to the families who also serve, playing a vital role in this community and supporting our war fighters.
First, the Thomas family. To Barb, Tony's staunch partner through 35 years of marriage, congratulations on your upcoming anniversary three weeks from today. A special thank you to your two sons, Mike and Tony, two more proud members of the long grey line, for their support and service. I also want to welcome your three grandchildren who are here today: Violet, Ray and Ford. Thank you for all the joy you bring your grandpa.
General Thomas, I know more congratulations are in order, since one week ago you became a grandfather for the fourth time. Let's hear it for the West Point Class of 2041.
I'm quite confident his first words will be "Beat Navy." (Laughter.)
And to the Clarke family, Rich's wife Suzanne, and their children, Madeline and Will. I know you have moved at least 20 times during your dad's Army career. Thank you for doing it once more, as you begin this next new chapter.
To the SOCOM community, which celebrates its 32nd birthday next month, your skill and vigilance keep us safe. I've learned a new lexicon since coming to the Pentagon, words with significant connotations. One that always sticks with me is devotion, for our Special Operations forces, too often, devotion means sacrifice. Our department and country are grateful for what you do, and your families endure on our behalf. And you are on the front line of freedom, defending America's interests as you operate in more than 90 countries around the world. At only three percent of the total joint force, you are the lethal tip of our spear. By going in first and seeing every mission through to the end, you enable more comprehensive military action that translates into diplomacy, and ultimately gives peace a chance.
Special operators don't just volunteer; you push the envelope every day through intense training, facing the most dynamic threats imaginable. The title Green Beret, Navy SEAL, Ranger, Air Commando and Marine Raider evoke admiration from your fellow citizens, comfort from our allies and partners, and fear from our adversaries. You are always ready, always innovating, always responding, and you like to be out front. In fact, you insist on it.
General Thomas, you have exemplified this mindset. Throughout your career, you have been at the forefront of our nation's battles. Since the day you pinned on the black and gold Ranger tab, you've been leading the way. This includes your numerous combat deployments in support of historic missions, from Operation Urgent Fury in 1983 to Operations (sic) Enduring Freedom in 2013. You deployed to Afghanistan, leading soldiers every year from 2001 to 2013, except for 2008, when you deployed to Iraq instead. And after you were wounded in combat, you returned to the fray in Afghanistan in 2009. In 39 years of distinguished military service, you've embodied the West Point motto, "Duty, Honor, Country."
And at this command in particular, you drove success and empowered our war fighters to wipe out the last strongholds of ISIS. You put it best when you said, "They declared an army, they put it on the battlefield, and we went to war with it." You can retire your post knowing that the ISIS army has been defeated.
During your tenure, you have dedicated yourself to those you lead, to constant innovation and to proactive problem-solving, and your commitment has, without question, resulted in a more capable and resilient force.
First, your people: You have been a staunch advocate for the men and women of the SOCOM community, institutionalizing Preservation of the Force and Families (sic) program, and personally emphasizing physical, mental and spiritual health of our operators. Before you took command, it was normal for a special operator to spend as much time deployed as at home. You changed that paradigm. Now, special operators spend almost 70 percent of their time at home alongside loved ones.
You make it a point to honor the resiliency of your special operators by visiting Walter Reed every time you visit Washington and growing the Warrior Care Program.
You also took the initiative to host this year's Warrior Games in Tampa, rallying the entire city behind you to get it done. I'm happy you'll get to see this great event unfold in June, since you're staying here in this -- this great city.
You have also driven relentless innovation across this command, modernizing and improving manning of our SOF and showing leadership within the Department of Defense in artificial intelligence, machine learning and beyond. As a result, SOCOM has reduced flash-to-bang, procuring and fielding the best equipment for our war fighters at the speed of relevance.
Finally, you've proven a skilled problem solver, addressing potential issues before they become problems, for you understand it's not just about the endgame; it's about ensuring success across the full spectrum of combat, from start to finish.
General Thomas, as you pass the baton here at SOCOM, the final testament to your impressive career is the military service of your two sons, Mike and Tony. There is no greater family legacy than this. Well done.
As one remarkable leader departs, another stands ready. Few understand the honor of an Army legacy better than General Clarke, who was raised in an Army family.
Throughout his career, he has stood apart as a team builder, exemplifying the best our military has to offer in an incredibly complex security environment.
He sets high standards for himself and those he leads, and reaches them with a potent combination of motivation, training, responsibility and vision. Over the last year and a half, more like two years if you count all the weekends we've spent in the office together, I've witnessed him in action, and I've come to know General Clarke as a savvy and precise leader with impeccable judgment.
With those skills, multiple combat deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan and experiencing -- commanding both conventional and special operations force (sic), he was made for this command.
General Clarke, your leadership will be a valuable as SOCOM maintains its current mission, while adapting to a new era of great power competition.
In a way special operators are being challenged to do what they do best, adapt and transform.
You will need to leverage targeted missions with an acute understanding of how they impact global trends.
This is no easy task, but you and the more than 80,000 men and women of this command are up for it.
I have no doubt you will take our fight to the next level.
Thank you for taking on this challenge. God bless the SOCOM community, and God bless America.