Adm. Harry Harris
Commander, U.S. Pacific Command
SOCPAC Change of Command
Camp Smith, Hawaii
June 9, 2016
General and Mrs. Bramlett, Admiral and Mrs. Swift, Admiral and Mrs. Tidd, General and Mrs. Brown, members of the Consular and Diplomatic Corps, fellow flag and general officers, Senior Enlisted Leaders, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, men and women of Special Operations Command Pacific, friends and family of Vice Admiral – Nominated – Colin Kilrain. By the way, you know what we call a Nominated Vice Admiral in the Navy? Rear Admiral. And friends and family of former Brigadier General Promotable Bryan Fenton – congratulations Major General Fenton, that second star is well-deserved, and mighty shiny.
Susan (Kilrain), I can only imagine how incredibly proud you are of Colin. But if you'd allow me, I'd also like to acknowledge your incredible service to our nation – as a naval officer, fighter pilot, and astronaut. Your unwavering support and dedication have allowed Colin to "live his dream." And I'd also like to personally thank you for taking such good care of our SOCPAC families while leading the Family Readiness Program.
I'm happy that your kids Sean, Liam, and Maura are here with us today. I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that Colin's and Susan's 16-year old daughter, Quinn, isn't here because she's in Annapolis at the Naval Academy Summer Seminar program. In addition to having extremely good taste in choosing a potential college, I think it's telling that the Kilrain family is continuing a lasting legacy of service to our nation – assuming of course, that Quinn goes along with it.
But I’ll remind Quinn that she better brush up on her boxing skills before Youngster boxing at the Academy – or else her great-great-grandfather Jake will probably come back to haunt her if she loses.
You see, Jake Kilrain fought John Sullivan in the final bare-knuckle heavyweight title fight in America – 127 years ago yesterday. The fight occurred in the scorching Mississippi sun and lasted 76 rounds – over 2 hours. The fight between these gladiators only ended because Kilrain’s cornerman threw in the sponge. Of course, as you'd expect the great-grandfather of any Navy SEAL to do, Jake protested this mightily.
I might add, the fight was illegal and this legendary Kilrain spent two months in jail.
Ladies and gentlemen, the Kilrain family is built tough.
But toughness and resiliency also run deep in the Fenton family. To Dawn, and daughters Cece and Nora, congratulations on Bryan's accomplishments and for what he's about to take on. I’d like to point out that Dawn is from Texas and she’s an expert duck hunter, who I've been told is a pretty good shot. Well, I guess there’s no questioning the relationship between civil and military authorities in the Fenton household.
Sergeant Major Cruz, the troops look great! Seeing all of you reminds me of an experience I had awhile back as a young squadron commander in Whidbey Island. I’d told the Command Master Chief that I wanted to address the Sailors. When I arrived in the hangar at the appointed time, however, no one was there, except for Master Chief. My expected audience, an entire squadron of 300-plus Sailors, was nowhere to be seen.
Naturally I was a little feisty. I asked the Master Chief if he had announced that I would be giving a speech to the troops. He replied – looking out at the empty hangar: “Well, no, sir, but it looks like word leaked out anyway.”
Well, I’m glad that the word didn’t leak out today, because I'm deeply honored to have this opportunity to be part of this ceremony.
As wonderful as it is to celebrate with family, it’s important to remind everyone why we conduct the 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 troops. It’s for our special operators, with the emphasis on special. We're a nation of around 320 million Americans. Of these, less than one half of one percent wears the Cloth of the nation – the uniform of our Armed Services. And of these who serve, just five percent wear the badges of our Special Operations Forces, which means that only about two one-hundredths of one percent (0.02%) of our population can count themselves as members of this elite group. Special, indeed.
Today is the day we bid fair winds and following seas to one of the great leaders in the Navy and Naval Special Warfare community. At the same time, we welcome another tremendous leader to the crucible of command. And this is a Joint day, make no mistake about this. For today, we live in a world where we must think, learn and fight Jointly – and rightfully so. And today we go back to our roots and take special note of what lies at the very heart of our profession – the exercise of command.
This ceremony, and all it represents, has not simply been one of our most cherished and important traditions, it represents the continuing recognition, indeed celebration, of who we are and what we truly value as a Joint Force: the exercise of command, the absolute nature of accountability, and the art of leadership.
So this ceremony is for you – the men and women of SOCPAC – to witness the passing of the absolute accountability of command from one fine officer to another.
Mark Twain was fond of saying that there's nothing more irritating than a good example. Well, Colin and Bryan are good examples and more. They are men of character whose backgrounds and achievements are incredible, as their bios will tell you. And, please, do read their bios, as I’m sure these two "quiet professionals" would prefer I talk about something else other than them.
But I can't help myself. Of course I’m going to talk about them. I’m going to talk for a few minutes about the warrior ethos that guides our special operations forces, and the nature of heroism as I see it today.
Today, our society – and particularly our youth – thirst for heroes, people to admire, to emulate.
We find ourselves, in this second decade of the 21st Century, living in an era where we are desperately seeking heroes and role models. And I believe we are looking for them in all the wrong places.
We've become seduced by pop culture and celluloid greatness, rather than genuine culture and lasting greatness.
There are so many people labeled as “heroes” today that it can be difficult to sort out who the real heroes are. We hear the term applied to sports figures, rock stars, TV and movie personalities, and so on. While their performances are entertaining – even "great" – they are not heroes in my book.
There are some in the media who would have you believe that heroes are defined by popularity and consist of form over substance. Nothing could be further from the truth.
You don't build strength of character with tabloids and steroids. You build it with grit, determination, and countless hours on the range.
True heroism means taking a stand at a critical turning point in some event – a stand that makes a real difference in terms of outcomes and in the lives of others.
As I reflect on what heroism means, I always think about something that Lieutenant Stephen Decatur – one of the Navy’s and our nation’s greatest heroes – said in 1804, when he led a small group of hand-picked volunteers into Tripoli Harbor to burn the captured frigate Philadelphia.
On the eve of this raid – which was later called “the most daring act of the age” – he rallied his warriors with these words:
“We are now about to embark upon an expedition which may terminate in our sudden deaths or our immortal glory.”
Today, this is the type of environment in which our Special Operations Forces thrive.
It's in environments such as these – where sudden death and immortal glory are not only possible, but likely – that SOF excels. This willingness to take on the seemingly impossible is what sets you apart from the rest of us.
And it sets you apart from the 320 million Americans that you are sworn to protect. For our special operators, “sudden death and immortal glory” are your watchwords… and your burden.
And I know you wouldn't have it any other way.
Ladies and gentlemen, we need look no further than our Special Operations Forces to find heroism in particularly impressive quantities.
The history of our Special Operations Forces is incredible – a study in sustained heroism of a high order. The roll call of some of SOF’s leading lights is a litany of bravery in the face of overwhelming odds. Names like Colonel Bull Simon, General John Alison, Master Chief Rudy Boesch, Navy Lieutenant Tom Norris, Major Dick Meadows.
The heroism of special operators has been passed down through generations of Americans who continue to answer our nation’s call to duty to the present day.
Consider the selfless actions of two Green Berets, Staff Sergeant Jason Brown and Staff Sergeant Jeffrey Adamec, in the early days of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
In April 2003, a small contingent from the Third Special Forces Group was tasked with preventing the Iraqi Army from reaching the oilfields in Kirkuk.
The Battle of Debecka Pass pitted a much larger mechanized Iraqi force – that included four T-55 main battle tanks – against this agile group of warriors. The Green Berets were outnumbered about 30 to 1. Brown and Adamec both, without regard for their own safety, left their vehicles and accurately fired multiple shoulder-fired Javelin anti-tank missiles into the Iraqi vehicles. They held their ground for over three days and accomplished their mission.
For their gallantry under fire, these two heroes were awarded Silver Stars, as well as the nom de guerre “Javelin aces.”
Consider Navy Senior Chief Special Warfare Operator Edward Byers' heroic gallantry in Laghman Province, Afghanistan. As a member of a Hostage Rescue Force in December 2012, he volunteered to rescue an American doctor held by enemy forces.
During the operation, Byers, completely aware of the imminent threat, fearlessly rushed into the room holding the hostage and engaged the enemy in close combat. He saved the lives of the hostage and several of his teammates, and became the sixth Navy SEAL in history to receive the Medal of Honor.
The fourth Navy SEAL to earn the Medal of Honor was Navy Lieutenant Michael Murphy, the namesake of the mighty USS Michael Murphy homeported here in Pearl Harbor.
How do you describe these actions to the average American? Their courage and sacrifices are almost beyond belief.
What these men did for our country, and what each of you do today, matters on a fundamental level.
Sudden death and immortal glory – their watchwords, and your burden.
Ladies and gentleman, I've watched Colin and his SOCPAC team closely over the past year and I've learned a fundamental truth. SOCPAC is a collection of heroes – a team of superstars who willingly give of themselves for the betterment of our nation and our allies and partners across the Indo-Asia-Pacific. You’re a band of brothers and sisters who exemplify the very best about our country.
You’re a powerful reminder of the values that kept America strong through the ages, and will keep us strong well into the future.
All of you are heroes, and I'm proud to serve with you.
Successful organizations, led by enlightened commanders, succeed over and over again. Most importantly, high performance organizations like SOCPAC are driven by leaders who share credit, delegate authority, but accept total accountability.
Colin, I’m talking about you. You’re a battle-tested warrior. Your leadership and vision propelled this command to success through numerous complex operations.
You led the successful transition of Operation Enduring Freedom Philippines to an enduring counter-terrorism partnership with our treaty ally. You've ensured a well-synchronized effort to build the capacity of the Armed Forces of the Philippines to combat radical extremists inside their borders.
You've empowered mid-level and senior foreign military leaders across half the planet to discuss regional problems such as the increasing threat from ISIL, as well as opportunities such as maritime security in the commons.
You've personally led engagements to afford our partners the opportunity to discuss shared security issues and counter-terrorism efforts.
To this end, you’ve led a well-coordinated campaign, Red Phoenix, against the transnational terrorist networks operating in Southeast Asia. This campaign plan involved multiple joint and combined operations, activities, and actions in conjunction with host nation counterparts. I’d love to tell you more, but the special operators out here would "counsel" me – if you know what I mean.
These accomplishments, although merely a sampling, are tremendous.
Colin, the foundation you’ve worked hard to build will continue when Bryan steps up to the plate in a few moments. Bryan’s reputation precedes him. And he's a fellow East Tennessean, so I won’t have any trouble understanding him when he speaks. I'm sure he'll want to talk about the newest element in the Periodic Table – #117 – Tennessine.
Bryan is already part of our Hawaii ohana, coming to us from right here at Fort Shafter. While General Brown and the USARPAC team may be sad to see you leave, I couldn’t be more excited to have you take command at SOCPAC.
Bryan is a combat-tested snake eater – from Operation Joint Forge in Bosnia to Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom. He has been a leader in the U.S. Army Office of Military Support throughout his career, including command at the Battalion and Brigade levels.
The "Office of Military Support" doesn't sound very “hooah” so I had some folks tell me what it actually does – and all I can tell you is that it does some “hooah-ingly” interesting things. Additionally, he served as the Joint Special Operations Command J-3 during Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan and Africa. He has taken the tough jobs and has what it takes to do this job.
I would also note that Bryan is a Notre Dame graduate who worked with legendary football coach Lou Holtz – so I just hope that he has the clarity of mind when he's around me to cheer for Navy when we beat Notre Dame this November.
And Sergeant Major, if General Fenton makes the troops watch the movie "Rudy" too often and calls it professional development, give me a call.
Ladies and gentlemen, I've talked too long. I’m reminded of the story about a young Marine special operator here at Camp Smith who shot a long-winded speaker. Afterwards, he went to his boss and said, "Gunny, I just killed me a keynote speaker – guy just didn’t know when to stop talkin’.” The Marine smiled and replied, "Good on ya’, Private! I’m just headed down to the Sunset Lanai, drinks are on me.”
Since I'm sure some of you are thinking of the beautiful view at the Sunset Lanai where the drinks are on Colin, I'll end my remarks by saying thanks.
Colin, thanks for being a great warrior and confidant; and I look forward to seeing you in action in Europe.
Bryan, thanks for taking on the awesome responsibility of leading our special operations forces in the Indo-Asia-Pacific.
And finally, to the men and women of SOCPAC, 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 of our special operations forces across the globe who go boldly into harm's way. May God bless the Kilrain and Fenton families. May God bless this beautiful state of Hawaii, and may God continue to bless the beacon of freedom we call America. Thank you very much.