by General Stéphane Abrial, Supreme Allied Commander Transformation (SACT) at the Change of Command Ceremony

  • 09 Sep. 2009
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  • Last updated: 10 Sep. 2009 08:57

Monsieur le Secrétaire général,
Messieurs les ambassadeurs,
Monsieur le Maire de Norfolk,
Monsieur le Conseiller à la sécurité nationale,
Monsieur le Président du Comité militaire,
Messieurs les chefs d’état-major des armées,
Monsieur le Commandant suprême des forces alliées en Europe,
Mesdames et Messieurs,

C’est pour moi un immense plaisir d’être ici avec vous aujourd’hui.

It’s such a great pleasure to be with you today.

I can only echo my friend General Mattis in saying how much Allied Command Transformation is honored by your presence. And I want to thank the gallant crew of the USS Eisenhower for hosting this event so outstandingly – but above all for their service in defense of our common values.

I would like to give a special thanks to the authorities from the Hampton Roads community and the fine Commonwealth of Virginia who are present or represented here today. Headquarters Allied Command Transformation, the only NATO command located in the U.S., is blessed to be based in a community renowned for its military-friendly environment. I am eager to get to better know the leaders and the people of this wonderful area, where personnel from all member nations and their families feel right at home – Michaela and I already do.

It’s moving for me to come back, once again, to this great and beautiful country. My first stay in the United States under the uniform was when I attended the Air Force Academy in Colorado 35 years ago – 35 years! I had to check that figure twice, it feels like yesterday… And 17 years ago, our first child was born in Montgomery, Alabama, where I was attending the Air War College. Let me tell you, as an Alabamian, she’s not at all impressed by the Virginia summer heat!

But even when I was not stationed on this side of the Atlantic, the U.S. was never far from my mind. Fate had it that in 2005, as Air commander for Nato Response Force, I was in charge of deploying the NATO air bridge in response to Hurricane Katrina, to ease the suffering of the people in a part of this country that I knew well.

As you can imagine, Secretary General, the moment you handed me the ACT colors was for me a very special one. I am truly honored by the command with which I have been entrusted. I am eager to serve alongside the dedicated men and women in NATO’s most diverse command, serving here in Norfolk and throughout Europe.

And General Mattis, it’s above all your legacy that I want to celebrate on this day. I cannot help noticing that you took command on board the USS George Washington, probably anticipating future interaction with a French officer, and that today we stand together on board the USS Eisenhower, in a powerful homage to the transatlantic link.

Your very personality will be leaving a lasting mark on ACT and NATO: you are, as everyone knows, “a soldier’s soldier” – or should I say “a Marine’s Marine” - and a genuinely inspirational leader; but your generosity of character and inclusiveness have also made you a first-rate coalition-builder. I cannot tell you how happy I am that we will continue to live and work close to each other, and how eager I am to maintain the important relationship between ACT and Joint Forces Command, starting now.

Your legacy is also one of ideas. You have been a distinctive, eloquent and tireless voice for enlightened military realism in NATO. And in these pivotal times, you have already demonstrated the contribution ACT, working openly and transparently with a wide range of partners, can and must make in charting NATO’s future. We will continue to pave that same path.

Beaucoup a déjà été dit, et à juste titre, de la signification historique de la passation de commandement d’aujourd’hui. Elle marque une étape inédite : la première fois qu’un commandement stratégique de l’OTAN est confié de manière permanente à un Européen. Permettez-moi, Monsieur le Secrétaire Général, de citer votre première conférence de presse, où vous y voyiez l’augure de « nouvelles perspectives » pour la relation transatlantique. C’est, en ces temps de défis, l’un des nombreux signes de la vitalité et de la force de notre alliance.

Much has rightly been said of the historical significance of today’s change of command, which represents a new stage: the first time a European is permanently entrusted with a NATO strategic command. Secretary General, let me quote from your first press conference, when you saw in this the sign of « new prospects » in the transatlantic relationship. In these challenging times, it is one of the many signs of the vitality and strength of our alliance.

Some things may change, but others will not. I know I speak for all ACT personnel in saying that our commitment is unflinching - first in supporting the men and women deployed - as we speak - under the NATO banner, by providing them with relevant training and timely lessons learned; and secondly in developing the right capabilities for the men and women our nations will send into harm’s way tomorrow and the day after tomorrow. We owe it to them, as we owe it to all those who have given their lives in the defense of our shared values.

We are living through exciting, albeit challenging, times. NATO’s role in the service of our family of freedom-loving countries, and in ever closer association with a growing number of partner nations and international organizations, is more indispensable than ever. And Allied Command Transformation’s obligation of excellence, openness and inclusiveness is more intense than ever. Awed by this responsibility, I pledge to give all I have to fulfill my new mission.

The ACT crew is, once again, ready to take off – or, as the crew of the Eisenhower would probably say, ready to launch. I look forward to working with all of you.