Thank you all very much. [Applause]

Obviously a good number of you have never heard me speak, so I appreciate the applause. [Laughter]

Let me welcome you to this very special Army afternoon. And, speaking for special, let me begin by extending a particularly warm word of welcome to the very special Austin family -- both related by blood and those related by experiences, his and Charlene's closest friends and a room full of admirers.

Now, for some of you who may have attended events like this in the past, I suspect you're sitting there saying "there's something different about this one," but you can't quite figure it out. Well, I want to give you a hint: we're not in the Pentagon Auditorium. See, that's where you normally hold these kinds of things. But when it comes to Lloyd Austin, the word "normally" isn't always nearby. We found it necessary to move it here to Fort Myer, in this great hall, because at last count we had sixteen pages of folks who expressed a desire and an interest to join with us.

So, that's great news for the Austin's, it's great news for the Army, but not particularly great news for me because as the host-MC I'm supposed to go through those sixteen pages and pick out the names who deserve recognition. Let me say I am foolish, but I'm not that foolish. [Laughter]. But you are truly all very, very welcomed guests and I know -- not that he needs me to, but that I speak for Lloyd and Charlene and the Austin family when I express their deep appreciation for you're making time in your busy schedules to be with us.

Now, for those of you who know me, I was a politician for seventeen years and I'm going to reclaim my right -- I just made a promise about not mentioning people and I'm going to break that promise. That didn't take long. [Laughter].

First of all I do want to recognize the 38th Chief of Staff of the Army, General Ray Odierno and his bride who have joined with us.

My friend and partner, the Under Secretary of the Army Joe Westphal.

We're joined, I can see out of the corner of my eye, by former Chief of Staff of the Army, the current Secretary of the VA, Rick Shinseki and his bride.

Former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs and Mrs. Mike Mullen.

Former Secretary of the Army Togo West.

Former Chief of Staff of the Army Dennis Reimer.

The current Commander of CENTCOM, General Jim Mattis.

Deputy Secretary of Defense, Dr. Ash Carter.

Chief of the National Guard Bureau, [General] Craig McKinley, and on and on and on … and if you name deserves mention, which I'm sure it does, and I missed it … mea culpa.

But as I said, let me reassure you that we're thrilled you're here as we all are today to witness the swearing in of the 33rd Vice Chief of Staff of the Army, General Lloyd Austin.

I have to tell you this has been a day of peaks and valleys for the Army, and for me personally. At ten o'clock this morning we said goodbye and farewell and many, many thanks to an extraordinary officer, the 32d Vice Chief of Staff of the Army, General Pete Chiarelli. And while we can never say thank you enough to him and to his bride it was a sad moment to see such a great leader go off and do different challenges.

But now we've begun to rise to the peak. The peak of course being the opportunity to welcome a new [Vice] Chief of Staff. And, I have to tell you, as Secretary of the Army I'm feeling pretty good about things, because for those of you who have ever seen Ray Odierno and Lloyd Austin standing together, I finally have the offensive line I could have used fifty years ago in high school. [Laughter]

I'm willing to take on any argument -- just bring it to me and I'll show you who to talk to. [Laughter] Because, after we swear in Lloyd we're going to have the twin peaks of military leadership here in the United States Army. Big men with big talent for a big job. And having said that, I'm particularly grateful that apparently I was nominated and confirmed [as Secretary] before they instituted a height requirement for the Army senior leadership. [Laughter] But, as Army Secretary and as a citizen of this great Nation I couldn't be more blessed to have two such great leaders.

You know in my two and a half years [as Secretary] I've become accustomed to welcoming -- and saying farewell -- to a lot of great Soldiers. And today's ceremony is still kind of personal for me. That's because I've had the honor of knowing Lloyd Austin in two different jobs in my life -- first when I was a Member of Congress and I had some power but wasn't bright enough to recognize it … and he took over as the commander of the 10th Mountain Division, and now as Secretary of the Army. And whether he was acting in his role as the commander of the XVIII Airborne Corps or replacing Ray Odierno at MNC-I or Director of the Joint staff, or any one of the other leadership positions he has held, Lloyd Austin has always led from the front, led by example -- not just telling Soldiers, but showing Soldiers the right way … the Army way … the Lloyd Austin way.

Now there's another component to the Austin leadership manual, as I call it as well -- back to Fort Drum. As many of you may know, it's located near my hometown of Watertown, New York, and that region has always had a close relationship with those who serve and command there going back really to the days when it was known as Pine Camp. But as close as that traditional relationship has been and as fortunate as the 10th Mountain Division has been particularly in its reincarnated years following its reactivation in 1984, that division has been led by some of our Army's greatest Soldiers, some of our Army's best leaders; but even at that, Lloyd Austin, in my mind, has really set the standard.

That didn't happen overnight, because like so many of the 10th Mountain Division commanders, Lloyd's hand had barely come off the Bible and he was off to Afghanistan.

The good news is we got to know Charlene because she stayed behind. And while it took a little bit of time to get to know General Austin up close and personal, they did get to know Charlene, and that began a love affair -- and one that exists even to today. New York's North Country, I think it's fair to say, embraced Charlene with open arms and she sure as heck embraced us. Even today, when I get to go back home, people will ask me about the Austins, yeah they care about Lloyd, but it seems they ask most often about Charlene. [Laughter] I tell them "you know they're doing great … she looks as beautiful as ever" but it seems they really didn't believe me because about a battalion's worth of them scraped together their dimes and nickels and got a bus ticket down here to be with us today and share in this very, very important moment.

Over the years Lloyd and Charlene have enjoyed a great and strong partnership, and there's no question that through her own hard work, her sacrifice and her commitment, she has helped Lloyd's reputation and leadership become cemented in posting after posting. But for the Army Family, that's not a surprise -- that's what we're all about. So, yes, we're here today to honor and welcome Lloyd Austin, but we also want to say thanks and welcome to Charlene for all that they've done together and for all that I know they will continue to do together.

This is a great day, sure for the Austin's, but I would tell you it's an even greater day for the Army and for the Army family. I expect Lloyd to continue his leadership and advocacy on behalf of Soldiers and their Families, just as he has at virtually every other assignment he's held. Now, he has big shoes to fill, with the departure of Pete Chiarelli we've lost one of the most passionate and forceful advocates the Army could have ever had. But I know Lloyd Austin well enough to know that he is more than up to that challenge.

There's a great deal of talk these days about the Army's need to get back to its full spectrum roots. By any measure, Lloyd Austin is today, as he has always been, a full spectrum leader. A leader who, at every level of command, has demonstrated to his troops the right way to lead, the right way to live as a Soldier -- someone who embodies the motto of his alma mater, the U.S. Military Academy at West Point: Duty, Honor, Country.

And if there was ever a Soldier, if there was ever a leader, you could count on to get the job done, I know it's Lloyd Austin.

As a Dog Face Soldier, he helped lead the invasion of Iraq in 2003 when he was an assistant division commander of the 3rd ID, the same division -- by the way -- where he received his first military assignment as a rifle platoon leader. Years later, eight years later in fact, in 2011, he led America's victorious sons and daughters, heads held high, out of a free Iraq as Commanding General of U.S. Forces in Iraq.

Make no mistake. Lloyd Austin finishes what Lloyd Austin starts.

General Maxwell Taylor, one-time Army Chief of Staff, noted that "no man ever rose to military greatness who could not convince his troops that he put them first, above all else." At every installation, in every assignment, through command and leading from the front, Lloyd Austin has put his troops first, and above all else. And that is why, perhaps more than anything else, today we have gathered to mark his rise in leadership to become our next Vice Chief of Staff.
So, Lloyd -- General Austin, sir … Charlene, congratulations to you both. God bless you, God bless America. And God bless this great Army that keeps her safe. Thank you. [Applause]

Page last updated Tue March 12th, 2013 at 12:39