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Home : Media : Speeches / Testimony
NEWS | March 31, 2017

Joint Interagency Task Force – West Change of Command

By ADM Harry B. Harris, Jr. U.S. Pacific Command

Adm. Harry Harris
Commander, U.S. Pacific Command

Joint Interagency Task Force – West Change of Command
Camp H.M. Smith, Hawaii

March 31, 2017 
As Delivered

Thanks for that short introduction. Ladies and gentlemen, let’s give it up one more time for the Pacific Fleet Band and also for Hawaii National Guard Colonel Robert Hill and his renditions of the National Anthem and Hawaiʻi Ponoʻī!

I’d like to make a few acknowledgements before I get started:
۰ Members of the Consulate Corps;
۰ Fellow Flag and General Officers;
۰ Distinguished guests; ladies and gentlemen:

For me, it’s truly an honor to participate in this important ceremony for two of the Coast Guard’s finest leaders: Rear Admirals Keith Smith and Donna Cottrell. These warriors have devoted their adult lives to serving our Nation and her Coast Guard.

And I know that this is a proud day for their families, too. Thank you for being here.

For the Smith family: Vicki, it’s great to see you again. Thank you for supporting Keith during his spectacular tour. Vicki’s parents Bernard and Erna are here as well. Rounding out his cheering section are his children Stephanie and Tanner, his sister Kenda and her husband Doug, his older sister Debbie, he wanted me to emphasize older, and her husband Larry. Thanks for joining us today.

And, unfortunately Donna’s husband Jeff, a Coast Guard veteran, couldn’t make it today. I’m told it’s because someone has to take care of the dogs back in Virginia. Regardless, I look forward to welcoming Jeff to our ohana when he arrives.

The great comedian George Burns once said, ‘the secret of a good sermon is to have a good beginning and a good ending; and to have the two as close together as possible.’ I assure you – this will be a good sermon!

As wonderful as it is to celebrate with family and friends, it’s important to remind everyone why we conduct a change of command ceremony. It’s not for the guests. It’s not for the families. It’s certainly not for me.

No. This ceremony is for the women and men of Joint Interagency Task Force-West.

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 as the defenders of this great nation value: the absolute nature of accountability and the art of leadership.

Today is the day we will bid fair winds and following seas to JIATF-West’s awesome director. At the same time, we welcome another tremendous leader to this interagency milieu.

Now, I’ll pause for a quick second to say that I don’t know what "milieu" means, but it sounds French… and I’ve found that if you use a French word or two in your speeches, people think you know what you’re talking about.

So "milieu" it is. Fortunately for us the Coast Guard produces adaptable leaders, like Rear Admirals Smith and Cottrell, who are Semper Paratus – Always Ready. Leaders who are capable of seeing a complex organization like JIATF-West through the challenges we face out here in the vast Indo-Asia-Pacific.

Now, normally I spend a lot of time speaking in short sentences on subjects about which I know practically nothing. But today, I’m thrilled to have the chance to speak a bit longer on a topic about which I know a great deal. Today, I get to talk about Rear Admiral Keith Smith’s leadership during his brilliant tour.

The responsibility of the Director of this organization isn’t limited to the offices that we see here at Camp Smith… though there's plenty here. No, Rear Admiral Smith is in charge of a vast array of operations to disrupt transnational criminal organizations that threaten the U.S. homeland and America’s interests throughout the Indo-Asia-Pacific.

His teams move rapidly to expand the counterdrug architecture to stem the flow of the drug trade – from Hollywood to Bollywood… and from polar bears to penguins.

From the time that Keith took the reins here in Hawaii, he set out to build a high-performance organization. An organization that does what’s right for the right reasons. An organization that responds to our nation’s needs. An organization that adjusts to change on its own… with its eye on the future, even as it focuses on the mission at hand.

It’s well known that the 158 people who comprise JIATF-West punch well above their weight. So here are a few examples from last year alone: 

۰ They worked with domestic and international partners, resulting in the interdiction of over 2700kg of cocaine bound for Oceania.
۰ They increased the professional knowledge of 9 foreign law enforcement units by conducting 35 counter-narcotics capacity building training events across the Indo-Asia-Pacific.
۰ They demonstrated the strength of our interagency processes by designating FBI and Treasury Specially Designated Nationals associated with transnational organized crime for sanctions and asset seizure.
۰ They worked closely with U.S. law enforcement agencies to deploy 22 intelligence analysts in support of 42 domestic and international law enforcement operations.
۰ They improved regional engagement through the construction of infrastructure projects in Cambodia, in Thailand, and in the Philippines.
۰ And he’s raised awareness to our national leadership about the need to reduce the flow of methamphetamine precursor chemicals that come out of China.

Folks, I could go on-and-on about how JIATF-West has excelled during his tour. But I’ll stop so as not to repeat what will be read in his award later. Plus, I know you’d all rather hear from Keith than listen to me.

By any standard, under Keith's leadership, JIATF-West was highly effective. Now Keith would be the first to point to the dedicated workforce as the reasons for this team’s many accomplishments.

And indeed, he’d be right. It is about having good people onboard. But I can’t stress enough the importance of the leadership and mentorship that a commander or director provides that enables his or her team to be successful.

Right after Keith got here, I charged him to change the way JIATF-West operates. I’ll be the first to tell you that change is hard. It’s uncomfortable – unsettling, even. That said, leading change is harder. And Keith Smith has done this exceptionally well.

Andre Malreaux once said, "To command is to serve – nothing more, nothing less." Keith broke that code early on. He’s a leader who empowers the entire team to do the work, supports them as they get the job done, and the results speak for themselves. The success of JIATF-West is a testament to each of you, to your professionalism, your teamwork – and to Keith Smith's leadership.

Ladies and gentlemen: successful organizations, led by competent leaders, succeed over and over again. People want to join high-performance organizations, and people want to stay in them, too.

So it’s a great honor for me to publicly commend Keith Smith for a spectacular tour. But, true to form, no rest for the weary – he heads back east to take command in yet another tough job at the Coast Guard’s Force Readiness Command. A great fit for a great officer.

Mark Twain once said that there's nothing more irritating than a good example. JIATF-West has been doubly blessed with not one, but two good examples – back-to-back leaders whose characters are a credit to the Coast Guard.

The soon-to-be – well, as soon as I stop talking – the soon-to-be Director, Rear Admiral Donna Cottrell, has a great reputation in the Coast Guard. She’s an operator… an experienced pilot by trade with 3,500 flight hours in four different models of the HH-65 and MH-65 Dolphin helicopters.

And she's no stranger to command. She led Coast Guard Helicopter Interdiction Tactical Squadron in Jacksonville, Florida and Air Station Savannah, Georgia.

Donna’s learned firsthand what it takes to protect our nation from the scourge of the drug trade.

And importantly, she knows what our friends, partners, and allies can do for us in our efforts to continue to combat illegal trafficking out here in the Indo-Asia-Pacific. She’s a natural fit to lead JIATF-West. And we’re all lucky to have her here.

Ladies and gentlemen, it's time for me to end this sermon. So let me close with some heartfelt thanks.

Keith, thanks for the leadership you provided to the women and men of JIATF-West.

Donna, thanks for accepting the awesome responsibility of leading the fine people of this organization.

And last but certainly not least, to the men and women of JIATF-West: thanks for everything that you do to defend our homeland and advance our national interests. What you do on a daily basis matters to U.S. Pacific Command; it matters to our allies and partners around the region; and most importantly, it matters to our nation.

May God bless all of our servicemen and women across the globe who boldly go into harm's way. May God bless the Smith and Cottrell families; and may God continue to bless the beacon of freedom we call America. Thank you very much.


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