Sir, [Hon. Carter] welcome. Thank you so very much for being here and for your daily guidance and leadership over this not just Army, but the United States Military. We're deeply appreciative both of that leadership, but obviously for your making time to be here with us.
And Mr. Chairman [Dempsey], welcome. Thank you too, sir, for all that you do and for joining us. And for each and every one of our audience members, thank you so much for joining in what is really, if not an unusual, certainly a special celebration -- a celebration of not one, but two great Americans. Two great American families. I speak of course about Army General Ray Odierno and his bride Linda and their amazing family, and to also welcome and congratulate the incoming Chief of Staff, General Mark Milley, his bride Hollyanne, and their family.
I want to begin by repeating what I said four years ago when we first welcomed Ray and Linda to the Pentagon: as the 21st Secretary of the Army, I can't think of anything more important than this job. I can think of few aspects of this job that are more procedurally, more symbolically important than this: the transfer of authority from one Chief of Staff of the Army to another, not with weapons, not with force - as we have seen in so many other places across the world- but with honor, tradition, and yes, reverence.
Today is indeed a credit to our democratic principles, indeed a credit to our Nation, but, most importantly, it is a credit to the selfless the men and women of profound character and conviction who take up arms and don the uniform in defense of our Nation, our liberties, and our freedoms.
As I know you might all imagine, this is a typical bittersweet moment, for while we are rightfully celebrating the incredible career and contributions of Ray and Linda, at the same time I'm losing a battle buddy, a partner, and two good friends.
In good times, and often in not so good times, the Chief and I were tied at the hip -- although I had to stand on my tiptoes to have that happen. But for anyone who has had the pleasure of serving with Ray will affirm, it's a great comfort to enter a room, a hearing or a ceremony with him by your side. Exactly what I like - a truly commanding presence.
Simply put, Ray is as fine an officer as I've ever known, and a leader wholly committed to the Army, and doing so for the last four years at Army headquarters. Wholly dedicated to the people and relationships that propel our mission and to the broader strategy framed within the Department of Defense.
More importantly, at all times he has faithfully been committed to the men and women of the United States Army. To the men and women of the U.S. military -- to all who wear the uniform and their families.
As it is with me, Ray can gaze out his windows of the Pentagon office and view the marbled marked fields of Arlington Cemetery. On many days, our view of Arlington is one of the most striking views in Nation's capitol. On most days, it serves as a stark reminder of the awesome and irrevocable responsibilities and consequences of the position of Chief of Staff of the Army.
And like Gen. Creighton Abrams before him, Ray firmly believes that Soldiers are not in the Army. They are the Army. And it has always been his number one job to serve them well, and to serve them honorably.
And whether it's a fighting hole in Tikrit, or visiting a wounded warrior in a hospital bed at Walter Reed, Ray has been the consummate leader - distinguished and thoughtful. He has led with a quick mind, calloused hands, and a servant's spirit.
And while the Army has been his profession for more than 39 years, serving this great Nation and its people -- protecting his beloved Army - has always been his career.
That there are so many of you here today, so many senior leaders, both active, retired and civilians, it is a clear and true testament to the legacy of Ray Odierno.
As the Secretary [of Defense] said, there is no earthly way to fully capture the breadth and depth of Ray's 39 years of service to the Army and to the Nation, at least not it this ceremony.
But to put it most broadly, Ray has made a difference everywhere he has served. In each post, leaving a rich and lasting legacy to his Army.
His grandfather, Silvio, and his father, also named Ray, taught him that life lesson and he's shared it with his own family and Soldiers: do the right thing, regardless of what's swirling around you.
George Marshall once famously said: "Go right straight down the road, to do what is best, and to do it frankly and without evasion."
To our Nation's great benefit, Ray has lived that adage every day for the past 39 years.
Ray, because of your efforts, our Army will forever be in your debt. But I know you haven't strived - you haven't served alone.
To Linda and the three Odierno children: Tony, Katie and Mike -- you've been a powerful and ready source of strength for Ray, and by so doing, you have served this nation.
Ray drew from that strength throughout his career. For all that you have done, for all that you have sacrificed, I recognize my thanks are really inadequate. But I hope that mine -- combined with what really is hundreds of thousands of those whom Ray has led -- will express to some degree the depth of gratitude we have to you as well.
Ray, I know that your desire to make a difference will not end here. As you and Linda resettle in Pinehurst, N.C. you will, I know, continue to serve the nation and help us through our next challenges. I know as well your legacy of leadership, your legacy of service, will be not just remembered but treasured.
Your kids and grandkids will see a bit more of you, no doubt. And your golf game will get what I'm told is a pretty needed boost. But, as Ray himself has said, "much work remains to be done."
And it's the character and commitment of our leaders that will carry the days that lie ahead.
That's why we've once again turned to one of our best.
General Mark Milley is one of the United States military's most highly-regarded senior officers and strategic commanders.
I've had the privilege of knowing Mark since his earlier days as a two star commander at the 10th Mountain Division, Fort Drum, New York - an Army installation that was part of the congressional district I had the honor to represent. He's been a remarkable leader as well and I am confident -- I'm absolutely certain, that he will be an exceptional chief of staff and member of the Joint Chiefs.
Mark has more than 34 years of exceptional leadership, as the Secretary [of Defense] noted, at every level. He's a rare mix of a forthright thinker and a warrior's warrior. And he has a deep appreciation of both the environment he's entering and the daunting task at hand. As I said when his selection was announced, I've watched him lead soldiers overseas in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as at home in places like Fort Hood, and most recently as the commander of United States Army Forces Command. At all times, he has led with distinction both in war and peace.
Mark has the personal trust of each and every one of us. The trust to guide our Army through these next critical phases. As he takes the flag, I know he'll also take the momentum of his predecessors, and he'll keep his eyes on the horizon of a bright future for the U.S. Army and our Nation, and our Soldiers.
So Mark, welcome back to the Pentagon ranks. We're thrilled to have you here and I look forward to working with you in the weeks ahead. You're the absolutely right leader for this job, and we are all grateful for your willingness to take it on.
As I've said, though, even the toughest Soldiers can't do it without support. And all of us greatly appreciate your wife Hollyanne and the rest of your family - your son Michael, your daughter Mary Margaret - for their willingness and support as you take on yet another tough assignment.
So, to both the Odierno and Milley families: thank you for what you have done, and thank you for what's to come.
It's because of leaders like you -- and the Soldiers that you're privileged to lead -- that we remain the world's preeminent combat ground force, and the world's indispensable nation.
Congratulations - thank you all. Army Strong!