ADM Harry B. Harris, Jr.
Commander, U.S. Pacific Command
USARPAC Change of Command Ceremony
Fort Shafter, Hawaii
May 4, 2016
Good morning. I’d also like to welcome the families who are here today. Dr. Carol, it’s great to see you at yet another change of command. Thanks for all you do, especially the way you’ve championed the Army’s family and Soldier readiness programs.
Bob and Patty, welcome back to the Aloha State. It’s a special sight to see such a large contingent of the Brown family here today. Patty, you know, I have to say that if you get 4 Naval officers together, guaranteed you're going to have them show up in at least 3 different uniforms... how you managed this is amazing in my book.
Ladies and gentlemen, I’m deeply honored to be part of this ceremony. Today, as we say in the Navy, we bid fair winds and following seas to a great Soldier and leader in General Vince Brooks. But, at the same time, we’re welcoming a worthy successor – General Bob Brown – another tremendous leader to the crucible of theater command.
As wonderful as it is to celebrate with family, 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 General Allyn or me.
No, this ceremony is for the troops. It’s a time when they can witness the passing of absolute accountability from one officer to another.
Today is an Army day – make no mistake about this. 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 Soldier’s profession: the exercise of command.
Today’s ceremony, and all it represents, is not simply 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 exercise of command, the absolute nature of accountability, and the art of leadership.
One of our great American sports legends, basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski, once said, “I try to see each new season as a new challenge because I have a new team to work with, new opponents to encounter, and often new ideas and theories to try.”
Certainly, when command leadership changes, a new season begins. As many here know, Vince and Bob both played for Coach K at West Point. So, these two great Soldiers understand completely what the Coach was getting at.
Now, it’s customary for speakers at events like this to talk about the future of the force and the shape of the things in the world to come. Well, in this time of great change, only a prophet or a liar could pull that off with any success.
I spend a great deal of time speaking these days – usually in short sentences on subjects about which I know very little. Today, I’m blessed to have the opportunity to speak a bit longer on subjects about which I know a great deal – the service of both Vince Brooks and Bob Brown – and the outstanding contributions of U.S. Army Pacific to our nation’s defense.
The wealth of tactical, operational and policy experience that Vince brought to USARPAC is what gave him the wherewithal to create Pacific Pathways, which very well may be the key enabling tool to effectively change the complex environment in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region. He had a vision of leveraging rotational Army units, helicopter deployments, and existing exercises to advance critical partnerships, increase responsiveness, and actually improve readiness.
In this theater, where “Fight Tonight” is not a slogan but a way of life, Pacific Pathways is making a difference.
Now, if Pacific Pathways were Vince’s only success story at USARPAC, I’d consider that a job well done. But this is only the beginning. Vince is the kind of leader who keeps moving forward.
His deep understanding of the needs of our men and women on the ground is complimented by his skills as a public communicator and strategic planner. Vince is also the consummate warrior, having served in combat with the Army's most prestigious units, including the 82nd Airborne, the First Cav, and the 2nd I.D. He commanded Soldiers from the "Rock of the Marne" during deployments to Kosovo. He led in Iraq.
And, now we have him in place at U.S. Forces Korea. Some here may have heard that that job has a few challenges.
Kim Jong-Un is on a quest for nuclear weapons, a means to miniaturize them, and the ways to deliver them intercontinentally. North Korea poses a real threat to Hawaii and to the Mainland. North Korea has hundreds of thousands of rockets within range of Seoul - posing a real threat to the 28,500 American troops that are posted there, their families, the hundreds of thousands of Americans who work in Korea, and our allies in Korea and Japan.
Korea is no place for amateurs. But Vince Brooks is a pro's pro. I’m absolutely certain he’s up to the challenge. I say this with such confidence because under Vince’s watch, USARPAC operated at the very nexus of security cooperation, public policy, and warfighting readiness.
General Brooks, you’ve turned over a truly impressive organization to General Brown.
Bob, I know you are up to the task! You will be tested--and you will certainly be challenged--but what you bring to the table makes you the perfect choice to lead the over 100,000 Soldiers of USARPAC.
Bob comes to us from Fort Leavenworth where he commanded the Army's Combined Arms Center, as well as the Command and General Staff College. Leavenworth is called by many “the intellectual center of the Army.” So he definitely has the brain-power needed in this job.
Bob is combat-tested, from Operation Joint Forge in the Balkans to Operation Iraqi Freedom. So he definitely has the strength needed in this job.
He also knows Hawaii, having worked previously at USARPAC, 25th I.D., and PACOM. So he definitely has the understanding of what it takes to be successful in this community.
People think of Hawaii as a Navy state and Honolulu as a Navy town. I was guilty of that, too. After all, we have Pearl Harbor, In Harm’s Way, and the Navy shipyard. But it’s really not so. This is an Army town. Across my 3 tours here, especially the last 2, I’ve come to realize how deep and broad the Army’s roots are in Hawaii’s soil... and in Hawaii’s soul.
Bob’s experiences have prepared him well for this assignment. I have no doubt that he’ll craft innovative playmaking for one of the most challenging and dynamic areas of the world: the Indo-Asia-Pacific.
Ladies and gentlemen, I’ve talked too long. I’m reminded of the story about an Army Infantryman who shot a long-winded speaker. Afterwards, he went to the Provost Marshall to confess and said, "Sergeant, I just killed me a keynote speaker.” The M.P. gave the Soldier a coin and replied, "You need to see your Chain of Command for your 4-day pass."
Since I don’t want anyone here thinking about a 96, and because I know there are much more accomplished speakers waiting, let me close by simply saying “thanks.”
Vince, thanks for being a great friend and confidant; and I look forward to seeing you in action in Korea - which could be sooner rather than later.
Bob, thanks for taking on the awesome responsibility of leading our Soldiers in the Indo-Asia-Pacific.
And finally, to the men and women of U.S. Army Pacific, 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 Soldiers serving in harm’s way across the globe. May God bless the Brooks and Brown families... and may God bless our home soil – that beacon of liberty we call America.
Thank you very much.