Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. I’m sorry I can’t be with you in person, but I’m glad I can still join you this way.
Let me welcome our senior leaders, including Minister of National Defense Suh Wook… distinguished representatives of our United Nations Command member nations … and all those who have worked so hard to strengthen the alliance between the United States and the Republic of Korea.
Our alliance remains a linchpin of security and stability, not just for Northeast Asia … but for a free and open Indo-Pacific region and across the world.
It’s a partnership based on common interests … and a friendship rooted in common values.
The rule of law.
The men and women of our armed forces don’t swear allegiance to a party … or a politician … or a potentate.
They swear allegiance to their respective Constitutions -- a vow to defend the way in which we govern ourselves.
And there’s something very very special about that.
And it has helped us work in common purpose.
As President Truman once said, “The best way to meet the threat of aggression is for peace-loving nations to act together.”
Over the years, we’ve done exactly that. We’ve acted together.
We’ve worked shoulder-to-shoulder at sea … and in the air … and on the ground, defending a fragile peace … and deterring the threat of aggression.
You know we’ve weathered many storms together, from actual combat to COVID-19.
And I am proud to be working alongside you as we continue to strengthen our Alliance.
As I told Defense Minister Suh during my trip to Seoul last March, given the challenges posed by the regime in Pyongyang and by China, the U.S.-ROK alliance has never been more important.
That’s why I made it a priority to visit South Korea on my first overseas trip as Secretary of Defense… and it’s why one of President Biden’s first policy reviews was over North Korea.
He made it clear that we would remain committed to the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula … and that we would continue to pursue measured and deliberate diplomacy to bring that about.
So we are particularly grateful to the men and women of United Nations Command, who continue to keep the peace in Korea by upholding the Armistice Agreement and whose support for the inter-Korean Comprehensive Military Agreement has significantly reduced tensions between North and South Korea.
And we recognize the role that the Combined Forces Command plays in what I call integrated deterrence … and that’s using the right mix of technology, and operational concepts, and capabilities to give any adversary pause.
Keeping the forces of CFC ready at all times remains the ultimate bulwark against aggression.
And the same thing goes for the troops of United States Forces Korea.
U.S. Forces Korea remains a premier joint force -- forward-deployed, disciplined, and ready to “fight tonight” if required.
Now, it takes an extraordinary leader to harmonize these three separate commands … to lead them effectively and smartly … to inspire confidence.
General Abe Abrams has been that kind of leader.
You know, I’ve known Abe a long time. Longer maybe than either of us want to admit.
We served in combat together in Iraq.
And what I saw in him then … is what I see in him now:
A gifted tactician and operational commander … a brilliant strategist … and a values-based, rock-solid Army officer.
He cares deeply about this mission … and even more about his people.
You know, Abe’s Twitter handle says it all … “Dog-face Soldier.”
Now, I’m not going to be the one to label that nickname literally true here ... I know where it comes from. You know Abe and I both served in the third infantry at different times, but the third infantry is known as “dog-face soldiers” so I’m not surprised that Abe has that handle. But it certainly does capture who -- and what -- Abe holds most dear.
And that was evident to me in the way that he tackled COVID-19. Just like in Iraq, Abe didn’t wait around for a lot of specific direction.
He saw what was coming. He anticipated the crisis. And he took charge early on, well before anyone under his command got sick.
“Go hard, and go early,” he said.
So Abe quickly stood up a watch team in his ops center.
He surveyed his people – including family members.
He raised health-protection levels and ordered quarantines.
And he shared as much information as he could with his troops and with his Korean allies.
When things got worse, Abe and his team got busier.
You can say a lot of things but the numbers speak to his success … with incredibly few COVID cases found among the more than 58,000 people he’s responsible for.
USFK became a model for the Department of Defense. And we still look back on what he did and try to learn from it.
Even throughout this pandemic, training still got done … the force stayed ready … and our deterrent posture held firm.
That’s Abe Abrams … mission first, people always.
Small wonder that our South Korean allies don’t want to see him go.
You know Abe, it was an honor and a privilege to serve alongside you in the Army, and I have appreciated your counsel and your candor during my time as Secretary of Defense.
Charlene and I wish you and Connie all the best as you prepare for the next chapter of your lives together.
And Connie, please know how much we all appreciate everything that you’ve done, not only to support Abe, but also to take care of our military families throughout your own long service to this nation.
We will be forever grateful to you for the thousands of hours that you have volunteered to help others … and for volunteering now to take Abe off our hands.
He’s all yours! But be careful, I might ask for him back. But for now he’s all yours.
I also want to thank Carolyn and Robert for the love and support I know they gave you, Abe.
Carolyn and Robert, you two have been through a lot as an Army family … all the moves and the uncertainty and the missed holidays.
But I know you never stopped supporting your father, and because of that, he could focus on defending this nation … and on leading our military at a critical time in our history.
So, yes, Abe has left some pretty big boots to fill.
But you know, I’m confident that in General Paul LaCamera we’ve found the right leader for the job.
Paul and I also go way back to combat service in Iraq.
He is an exceptional leader, with more than 36 years of combat and command experience under his belt, including his most recent tour as the commander of the U.S. Army Pacific.
I like to refer to Paul as a quiet warrior … he’s thoughtful, reflective, dependable … and 100 percent effective.
He drives results.
If it is humanly possible to take what Abe has accomplished here and improve upon it, there’s only one officer I know who could do it and that’s Paul LaCamera.
And I know how proud your family is, Paul, including your wife Theresa -- herself an Army veteran – and your children, Jack, Brianna, Katie, and Maggie.
And so another Army family steps into the breach. And we are grateful for all of you.
Paul, please know that you will have full support as you assume these duties. I know it is not lost on you how high the stakes are, and how critically important this alliance is to our national security and to that of South Korea.
We have great confidence in your judgment, in your determination to protect the men and women under your command, and in your deep commitment to deterrence and security on the Korean Peninsula.
It’s a big mission, but I know that you’ll carry it out with distinction as you have in the other assignments throughout your career.
May God bless both of our nations, and may God keep all who serve them safe.
We go together!