Adm. Harry Harris Jr.
Commander, U.S. Pacific Command
USPACOM Change of Command Ceremony Speech
Pier Kilo 8, Hawaii
May 30, 2018
First and foremost, all glory to God through whom all things are possible… and to the first Hawaiians who originally settled these beautiful islands.
Mr. Secretary, Chairman, and CNO: your presence means so much to all of us… and thank you for the kind words.
Men and women of the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, and your families, what you do on a daily basis is of fundamental importance to our nation’s defense. I’m proud to serve alongside you.
Fellow flag and general officers; Senior Enlisted Leaders; distinguished guests; ladies and gentlemen:
Let me begin by saying how lucky Bruni and I are to serve here in Hawaii almost 5 years. John Steinbeck once wrote: "The Pacific is my home ocean; I know its moods, its color, its nature." Indeed, Bruni’s and my roots and histories run deep here in the Pacific; this is our home.
Folks, I’m acutely aware that the greatest speech in American history was given by President Lincoln at Gettysburg and it lasted 2 minutes. Julius Caesar probably gave the longest… and his best friends killed him.
But before you unsheathe your knives, let me thank a few folks.
I've spoken at many changes of commands over the years. While these events focus on the incoming and outgoing commanders, the story is really not about individuals. It's about family, about friends, and about colleagues – past and present. In the 21st Century, most of us are shaped by deep friendships formed in hard places. Like you, I believe that service to our country – whether you wear a uniform or a suit – is noble. Because we live in a time of persistent conflict, I believe that challenges are best met together… with friends by our side.
We are who we've been brought up with and who we've come up with.
I stand on the shoulders of giants, and many are here today. To great friends from Annapolis days, P-3 bubbas, Pensacolians, Miamians, Pentagonians, OPNAVians, Graybeards, friends from Down Under and Japan, Korea, Italy, Germany, Taiwan – even Guantanamo – and family and friends who've come from all over the U.S. to share this day with Phil and Tracy, and Bruni and me… I’m glad to have given you all an excuse to visit Hawaii.
I want to acknowledge Admiral Jerry and Linda MacKay. Admiral MacKay passed away last year. I was his aide many years ago – and I might add: once an aide, always an aide . He taught me how to be a flag officer before I made Lieutenant Commander. He mentored me ever since and I miss him.
To all the veterans here: all of us owe all of you a debt of gratitude. We should celebrate Veterans' Day every day.
To our industry partners and Hawaii civic organizations: America’s strength comes from the synergy between her brave sons and daughters who have chosen the warrior’s way and the people and organizations in our communities and in industry that provide them with the steadfast support and best equipment to get the job done.
To the PACOM Components and Mission Partners – Generals Brown, Berger, Martinez, and Yoo; Admirals Aquilino, Penoyer, and Cottrell; and SESs Mr. Joe Martin and Pete Gumataotao: thank you for all you do for the Joint Force and your Services. Thanks, too, to General O'Shaughnessy and Admirals Swift and Atkins, who pulled chocks earlier this month. And to General Brooks in Korea – who has far more important things to tend to.
To my personal staff at Quarters A, in the Fishbowl, and on the Bridge at Camp Smith; to the Fentons, the Schneiders, J-Dirs, the CAGsters, POLADs, Special Assistants, and Jenny: thank you for making my nutty hours your nutty hours, and every day a fun day.
And finally to Bruni, who keeps me honest, tries to keep me humble – an impossible task, I might add – and lets me continue this cool adventure: I guarantee you that when I step off this dais someone will come up to me and say "Oh, you’re the feller that's married to Bruni Bradley; good to finally meet you."
Now let me welcome Phil and Tracy Davidson. Admiral Davidson is well-suited to operate in the international arena that is the Indo-Pacific Command in the 21st Century. He understands completely both his strategic and operational responsibilities. I'm pleased – indeed, gratified – that I leave this post in his hands… a battle-tested leader who brings to this job the expertise gained from a multitude of important security and operational assignments spanning the globe. Mr. Secretary, you'll be well served, indeed.
Ladies and gentlemen, when I took this podium in 2015, I said that there was no shortage of challenges that confront us. From North Korea to China to Russia to terrorism.
In the ensuing 3 years and 3 days, I've given 277 speeches – or 1 speech every 4 days – and I've reiterated these themes over and over again. I see no reason to change today, on what will be my last speech in uniform.
North Korea remains our most imminent threat… and a nuclear-capable North Korea with missiles that can reach the United States is unacceptable.
China remains our biggest long-term challenge. Without focused involvement and engagement by the U.S. and our allies and partners, China will realize its dream of hegemony in Asia. We should cooperate with Beijing where we can… but stand ready to confront them where we must.
ISIS is here in the Indo-Pacific. The events of 2017 in Marawi City serve as a wake-up call for all of us. And a resurgent and revanchist Russia, whose longest coastline is in the Pacific, remains an existential threat to the U.S. even as Moscow acts the spoiler in the Indo-Pacific today.
Indeed, a lot has happened in the decades since the Berlin Wall fell and the Soviet Union dissolved. In the Indo-Pacific, much of this change has been for the good. But make no mistake: our 27-year holiday from history is over. Great power competition is back... and I believe we’re approaching an inflection point in history. We’re certainly not approaching anything resembling the end of history. Freedom and justice hang in the balance. And the scale won’t tip of its own accord simply because we wish it would.
Ladies and gentlemen, our Commander in Chief is clear: a geopolitical competition between free and repressive visions of world order is taking place in the Indo-Pacific. Sustaining favorable balances of power will require strong commitment and close cooperation with our allies and partners to defend freedom, deter war, and maintain the rules that underwrite a free and open international society.
This is hard work, for sure. But it's not aspirational; it's in our DNA. This is what we live for. Our nation deserves no less, and our President and Secretary of Defense expect no less. If called upon, I'm confident that Admiral Davidson will lead INDOPACOM to fight tonight to defend American interests in the vast Indo-Pacific.
I'll now proudly read my orders.
"CNO Order 0548. Your request to be transferred to the retired list has been approved by the Secretary of the Navy. Detach in May 2018 from duty as Commander, U.S. Pacific Command. Signed J.M. Richardson, Admiral, CNO."
Sergeant Major: haul down my flag. I’m ready to swallow the anchor.
Admiral Davidson, I'm ready to be relieved.