ADM Harry Harris
Commander, U.S. Pacific Command
PACAF Assumption of Command Ceremony
Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii
July 12, 2016
Thanks for that great introduction. Give it up for Staff Sergeant Devon Rivas-Martin for that outstanding rendition of the National Anthem and Hawaii Pono’i.
I know there’s a lot of speakers so I’ll get on with it so you can get on with it. Let me start by acknowledging:
General Goldfein – our 21st Chief of Staff of the mighty U.S. Air Force – it's great to share the dais with you. Our newest 4-star General O’Shaughnessy – who’s been a 4-star for about 50 minutes now. General Bramlett, esteemed members of our consular and diplomatic corps, Fellow Flag and General Officers, all the state, city, and community leaders here, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen:
Shags and Donna, welcome back to the Aloha State. It’s great to see the members of your family who travelled so far to be here with us to witness this special day.
And Sam, I didn’t forget about you. Shags isn’t the only O’Shaughnessy who accomplished a lot while in Korea. At just nine years old, Sam recently earned his black belt in Taekwondo.
Sam, I’m pretty sure you’ll be able to up your training. But it may be harder for your dad to continue playing his sport here in sunny Hawaii. In case you didn’t know Shags is a passionate ice hockey player. I’d expect no less from a guy who was born in Canada, grew up in Boston, and played goalie at the Air Force Academy. It’s in his blood – but it’s probably going to be a bit harder to find a “seniors” ice hockey league for your dad.
While I was preparing my remarks for this special occasion I asked my wife Bruni for some advice. She replied, “Well Harry, there’s a first time for everything, so you might try being funny... and brief.”
Ladies and gentlemen, I'm the furthest thing from funny that you'll see – but I will be brief. So, for the next few minutes each of us has a job to do. Mine is to talk… and yours is to listen. If you finish your job before I finish mine, just let me know and I'll wrap this thing up in a hurry.
Let me begin by saying how honored I am to be part of this ceremony welcoming a great Airman and leader – General Terrence “Shags” O’Shaughnessy – to the crucible of Component Command.
And as wonderful as it is to celebrate with family and friends, it’s important to remind everyone why we conduct these ceremonies. It’s not for the guests. It’s not for the families. It’s certainly not for me.
No, this ceremony is for the troops. It’s a time when they can witness the assumption of absolute accountability by a single individual.
Make no mistake – today is an Air Force day. For even though we now live in a world where we must think, learn, and fight jointly – and rightfully so – today, we go back to our roots and take special note of what lies at the very heart of the Airman’s profession – the exercise of command and the execution of air power.
Today’s ceremony is one of our most cherished and important traditions. It represents the continuing recognition – indeed celebration – of who we are and what we value as military leaders: the absolute nature of accountability and the art of leadership.
That said, I’m going to keep the main thing – well, the main thing. Thucydides once said, “The bravest are surely those who have the clearest vision of what is before them, glory and danger alike, and yet notwithstanding, go out to meet it.”
Today, I’m blessed to have the opportunity to speak about three such leaders of vision – Lori Robinson, Russ Handy, and Shags O’Shaughnessy. Lori left our ohana last May to take command of the U.S. Northern Command, making her the first woman to serve as combatant commander – shattering one of the last glass ceilings in our line of work.
While she was here in Hawaii, her leadership in command of PACAF is a matter of record and will be forever enshrined in our nation’s history. The first U.S. female four-star commander of a combat force. One of Time Magazine's 100 most influential people of 2016. The list goes on.
Under her leadership, she operationalized the Joint Force Air Component Commander, or JFACC, and demonstrably improved interoperability with our allies and partners from Hollywood to Bollywood. But, just as the list goes on. Lori moved on to her current assignment where she's merely responsible for defending our Homeland.
That’s when Russ stepped up to the plate in a big way. Because he wasn’t already busy enough in his other jobs as the Commander of Alaskan Command, Eleventh Air Force, and Alaskan Northern American Aerospace Defense Region, we brought Russ here from Elmendorf to pinch hit.
And you thought the commute from Ewa Beach was brutal.
In this theater, where “fight tonight” is not a slogan but a way of life, his vast operational experience ensured that PACAF remained focused and ready. Russ was no mere caretaker. No, he embodied the old saying “when in command – command.”
I’ll give you one example. RED FLAG-Alaska allows joint and international units to sharpen their combat skills by flying simulated combat sorties in a realistic threat environment.
This year’s exercise series brought in our partners from India, Japan, Singapore, Australia, Canada, Denmark, and New Zealand to exchange tactics, techniques and procedures up there in Alaska. This training improves interoperability across the board. RED FLAG-Alaska demonstrates how the forces we have today will effectively “fight tonight.”
Thanks Russ, you made us all proud. Now we’re gonna send you back to Alaska with some aloha shirts to continue your fine work there.
Shags, no one is more prepared, more ready, more steeped in the art of Joint air warfare – and the application of air warfare to the threats we face in Asia – than you. You'll be tested for sure. But what you bring to the table makes you the perfect choice to lead the 46,000 men and women of PACAF.
General O’Shaughnessy comes to us from a strategically critical place in the Indo-Asia-Pacific: Korea. There, he wore many hats: Deputy Commander, United Nations Command Korea; Deputy Commander, U.S. Forces Korea; Commander, Air Component Command, Republic of Korea/U.S. Combined Forces Command; and Commander, 7th Air Force. Let’s just say that that he can multitask well.
The challenge he faced in Korea was not one for amateurs. Lucky for us, Shags was a pro’s pro – an Airman's Airman if you will. He was the ideal Wingman for General Scaparrotti in Seoul. He commanded well in Osan. He ensured strong and measured responses to the North Korean dictator’s irresponsible behavior. The recent deployment of Raptors on the Korean Peninsula is just one example of his understanding of the challenge that exists there and how we can meet it with air power. So he definitely has the in-theater experience and the right touch needed in this job.
Shags is battle-tested – flying 168 combat hours over Iraq in the F-16 Fighting Falcon. So he definitely has the courage needed in this job.
He knows the region – he led the 35th Fighter Wing in Misawa, Japan, and served on the Joint Staff as the Deputy J5 for Asia. And he also knows Hawaii. He commanded the 613th Air and Space Operations Center at Hickam, was the Vice Commander of 13th Air Force, and served as Director of Operations for PACOM. So he definitely has the local knowledge of what it takes to be successful here in our ohana.
People tend to think of this theater as Navy centric. I was guilty of that, too. In fact, when I was in command of the Pacific Fleet, I was fond of reminding folks that 70 percent of the world and most of the PACOM theater is covered by water.
Well, that was until one of my friends in Air Force blue nudged me after I finished one of these rants to remind me that 100 percent of the PACOM theater is covered by air.
Wow. Talk about putting things into perspective. The Air Force has a massive scope of responsibility in our missions to protect our homeland and maintain access and freedom of movement throughout all domains with our friends and partners here in the Indo-Asia-Pacific.
The tools that the PACAF Commander possesses to accomplish these missions are as lethal as they are diverse. There are three Numbered Air Forces: 5th Air Force in Japan, 7th Air Force in Korea; and 11th Air Force in Alaska. And many other major units throughout the vast expanse of the Indo-Asia-Pacific. Let’s not forget about the tremendous responsibility that comes along with the job as Joint Force Air Component Commander, or JFACC, for all air forces assigned to the PACOM area of responsibility.
And now Shags is about to command all of this. His experiences have prepared him well for this assignment. I have no doubt that he’s up to the challenge of Component Command in one of the most challenging and dynamic areas of the world.
Shags, I’m ecstatic that another Pacific expert, a tested warrior, and a good friend will take the controls at PACAF. I’m going to overlook the fact that you drive a second-rate sports car.
It’s telling that we send officers of the highest caliber to command in the Indo-Asia-Pacific. It’s another indicator of our commitment to Rebalance and the network of alliances in this vital region of the world.
So, in honoring General O'Shaughnessy's previous command, an ancient Korean maxim comes to mind – “Yu bi mu hwan (유비무환)” – which means “When you are prepared, you have nothing to fear.” Pacific Command has nothing to fear because Pacific Air Forces stands ready to fight tonight if our Nation calls.
Folks, I know you're all too polite to raise your hands to tell me that you finished your job before I finished mine; but I know that my time is nearly up.
So, let me close by simply saying “thanks.”
Russ, thanks for taking the tac lead for the past couple of months.
Shags, thanks for taking on the awesome responsibility of leading our Airmen as they ensure we can deliver air power throughout the vast Indo-Asia-Pacific.
And finally, to the men and women of U.S. Pacific Air Forces, thanks for everything you do to defend our homeland and advance our national interests. What you do on a daily basis matters to U.S. Pacific Command, to our allies and partners around the region, and to our nation.
May God bless all the Airmen serving in harm’s way across the globe. May God bless the Handy and O’Shaughnessy families – and may God bless this beacon of liberty we call America. Thank you very much.