USSTRATCOM Change of Command Remarks

By General C. Robert Kehler | Offutt AFB, Neb. | Nov. 15, 2013

Thank you Governor Heineman.  It’s always special sir, when you can join us.  We really appreciate this and you’re abiding interest in USSTRATCOM and the men and women who serve  at Offutt.  Thank you for being here. 

Mayor, Secretary and Mrs. Hagel, General and Mrs. Dempsey, Admiral and Mrs. Haney, General Alexander, distinguished guests, military leaders, ladies and gentlemen; I FEEL GREAT! (Audience laughter)  I feel like 150 pounds had been lifted off my shoulder.             And Chairman let me correct one bit of information.  That creek is every bit of 75 yards!      (Audience laughter)  If it was 50 yards, I’d clear it every single time!  (Audience laughter)        Even ask that maybe they could shorten the distance a little bit, but four-stars don’t have that kind of power anymore.  So, darn it!  This week has gone by in a blur, the mad activities and emotions, but today is a day for smiles and thank yous. 

First, thanks to all of you for being here today and let’s take a moment to show our appreciation for the men and women standing out here in this formation.  (Audience clapping)  Thanks to the Major General Sunny Uberti; our Chief of Staff is also our Commander of Troops today and to Sergeant Major Pat Alston and the team that put this ceremony together.  This is not an easy thing to do but great teams make challenges look easy.  And this is one of the few times the Sergeant Major actually got to use his ‘Outside Voice’ for the entire time and it was okay!  

Secretary Hagel, General Dempsey thank you both for officiating this ceremony and thank you for your leadership during very difficult times.  I have the great pleasure to work with the Chairman and the Secretary, and even though I don’t see them personally on a day-to-day basis, there isn’t a day that goes by that there isn’t some connection that we have from all the combatant commands to them.  So what we know for sure is what awesome jobs they have, what difficult jobs they have, and the extraordinary circumstances they’re laboring under today.  So to the two of you and to your spouses, thank you for your service during very difficult times.    

Cecil and Bonny Haney, thanks for being flexible in the transition and for allowing the Kehler family to stay in Quarters 16 through this week.  You made our lives much, much easier and we’re very grateful to you for that.  I know you will be a great Commander for Strategic Command and for the Nation.  Marj and I wish you success as you navigate what I know will be choppy seas ahead.  We have the right sailor for the job and so congratulations, again, to you and Bonny.

Mr. Secretary, I will always be grateful for the trust and confidence you, Secretary Gates, Secretary Panetta, and President Obama placed in me by giving me the opportunity to command United States Strategic Command.  Now I could probably get some debate on this point from a lot of places but by my view, this is the best job in the entire Department of Defense!

I also need to thank Chairman Dempsey, former Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen, and former Vice Chairman General Hoss Cartwright for your support, for your guidance, and your mentoring.  You did an awful lot to prepare me and USSTRATCOM for very tough problems we faced over the last several years. 

I’ve been thinking a lot over the last week or so about what it took for me to go from being a ‘fresh faced’ second lieutenant from Shamokin, Pennsylvania, to the four-star commander of the United States Strategic Command.  That’s not a journey that I could have made alone believe me.  So, I came up with a list of what I think it took to get me here.  First, it took my parents to be there when I needed them.  Now you would expect me to say that and I mean it in all the ways you think I mean it.  They were loving, caring, nurturing, supportive.  They worked hard and sacrificed much for my sister and me.  But there was a critical point when they made all the difference in the world and that was on the day I was commissioned.  That one was really special because on that day, standing at the back of the chapel of Penn State University, ready to begin the commissioning ceremony, the Professor of Aerospace Studies looked at me and said,        “Mr. Kehler your hair is too long.  The only reason I’m going to commission you is because your parents are here.”  (Audience laughter)  So I know they played a pretty critical part at the beginning too, but I don’t want to think too much about that!  I will say that at that critical point--whether or not I was going to be commissioned--my Mom and Dad were right there for me.      By the way, Mr. Secretary, nature solved that hair problem!  (Audience laughter)  So, I think I was worth the risk.  Second, it took Marj.  Now I’m mentioning her out of sequence here, if I wait I’m not going to be able to say.  So, Marj was an air traffic controller when I met her.   She delighted in telling pilots where to go.  (Audience laughter)  So did I, in a way, being an aviator.  And they listened to her.  She was smart.  She was clever.  She was a seriously ‘hot’ dame. She could cook.  She was self-reliant.  And she came with her very own spark-plug gap tool!  She was perfect!  (Audience laughter)  She keeps me well grounded.  And believe me, to this day her favorite expression is, “Don’t pull that General crap with me!”  (Audience laughter)  But (Audience laughter//clapping)  she doesn’t say ‘crap’!  (Audience laughter) She’s a remarkable human being, a fantastic mother, my closest confident, my best friend.  And our military has been made better because of her.  I wouldn’t be here without her. 

Third, it took a great sister.  Some years ago, and she’s still nervous, I said to her before she came over, “I’m going to mention you in the speech.” –and you’ll hear a little more about this—but like all good sisters she offered as to how that may be a risky thing for me to do.  But, I called my sister some years ago when I was dragging my feet regarding marriage plans.  Marj and I had only been dating at that point for about four and a half years.  (Audience laughter)  And I don’t remember the exact words that she used, but in that kind, relaxed, gentle way that only sisters use with their brothers she said something like, stop messing around and marry her.  Which I did!  My sister could be standing where I am today.   She’s a successful, self-made, business woman.  She’s a terrific mother.  She bore the brunt of problems with our parents when they were aging.  And I wouldn’t be here without you for sure.  My brother-in-law, Steve, also deserves some of the credit, even though his active duty time was with the Marines and he’s a lawyer!  But we don’t think either one of those things impact the value he has for all of us.

Fourth, it took a great family.  Matt and Jared, I’m so proud of the young men you’ve become.  You didn’t pick the military life-style, but you took it all in stride and you never complained.     In fact, you flourished.  We’ve watched you become confident, self-sufficient, successful men.  Matt when you married Danielle you added a spectacular young woman to the family.  Jared, I’m very proud of you.  And Kaylee all I can tell you is hang in there. This may be a genetic flaw of the Kehlers.  Matt and Danielle dated for over four years as well.  One of these days I’m going to suggest that Jared call his Aunt Carol.  (Audience Laugher)  It also took a great extended family.  My cousins John, George, and Roger Larkin and their families are here.  And Marj’s cousins, Ralph and Leslie, are here.  One of my nephews, Drew, is here—he came from Europe a couple of days ago.  And we love all of you.  And all of you had something to do with me standing here today. 

It took great friends as well.  We’re blessed with many, many wonderful friends from around the country.  All have been supportive.  All have contributed to my being here in ways large and small.  I’m only going to mention one name today, and that’s my childhood friend and college roommate, Dave Berkheiser  and his girlfriend, Diane who are here.  Dave is also a successful, self-made businessman and he’s a guitar hero too to boot.  Dave, I’ve learned a lot from you about enjoying life, thanks.

Finally, it took great mentors and leaders.  I’ve been fortunate to work with and for the best, brightest, most talented people the Nation has to offer.  I would describe my mentors collectively as patient.  I could not have been better prepared for the challenges along the way.  People deliberately trained and positioned me and I hope I have done the same thing for the coming generations.  People who volunteer to serve in the military of the United States are extraordinary.  They come from all walks of life and all parts of the country.  In some cases, from all parts of the world.  Not so long ago we were down the ramp here and I was escorting a local Congressman, Congressman Fortenberry, through the back of the Airborne Command Post.  We stopped, and we were doing with the crew something that Generals do.  I was chatting them up, the Congressman was chatting them up, they were doing what military members do in situations like that—they were pretending like they were interested!  (Audience laughter)  And so I asked one of them - a young woman in this case, who was standing there, “Where are you from?”  She said Russia.  I’m thinking like you know Russia, Idaho? Russia, you know Russia? Russia what?  And she says, “No, Russia.”  She was adopted when she was nine years old and brought here to the United States by her adopted family.  Decided to give something back and joined the Navy--serving as a communications technician now on the Airborne Command Post.  And I said to the Congressman, I wonder if there’s any American serving on the Russian Airborne Command Post?  I bet the answer to that is not on your life.  We ought to be proud of ourselves. 

So as it turns out, it took all of you to get me here.  I can’t thank you enough.  I would be honored if you’d shared in our success story and took pride in the part that you played.  It’s been a privilege and an honor to serve the world’s greatest military during the most extraordinary four decades of our times.  Every day I’ve been thankful for the ability to serve and to serve with the people that we get to serve with.  While I can be content to remain in uniform forever, the time has come for Marj and me to pass the torch to very capable leaders who are ready to step forward.   If this was a book, we’re about to start chapter two.  And we do so with a sense of opportunity and excitement  for what lies ahead.  And with the sure knowledge that the book will be written with more than two chapters.  We fully intend to continue serving in other ways and we look forward to continuing our friendship with all of you.  You can count on me to be supportive and I will be pleased to do whatever I can to help you. 

Generals get to stand in front of audiences like this and receive praise and medals for achievements made possible by others.  The successes attributed to me are really your successes.  And you’re the ones who deserve my thanks and my praise.  If I could sum up my career in three words it would be Husband, Father, Airman.  Thank you for allowing me to join your formation and fly on your wing.  God Bless you and God Bless America.


  • President Barack Hussein Obama II (44th President:  2008-2012 and 2012-2016)
  • Mr. David Eugene “Dave” Heineman, current Governor for the State of Nebraska 

(2006-2010 and 2010 to Present)

  • Congressman Jeffrey Lane “Jeff” Fortenberry, U.S. Representative for Nebraska’s 1st Congressional District (Republican; 2005-Present)
  • Mr. Charles Timothy “Chuck” Hagel, Secretary of Defense (27 February 2013 to Present)
  • Mr. Leon Edward Panetta, former Secretary of Defense (01 July 2011-27 February 2013)
  • Mr. Robert Michael Gates, former Secretary of Defense  (18 December 2006- 01 July 2011)
  • General Martin E. Dempsey, USA, current Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS)

(01 October 2011 to Present)

  • Admiral Michael Glenn “Mike” Mullen, USN, former Chairman, JCS (2007-2011)
  • General James E.  “Hoss” Cartwright, USMC, former Vice Chairman, JCS (2007-2011)
  • General Keith B. Alexander, USA, Director of the National Security Agency [NSA]

(01 August 2005 to Present) [Announced on 16 October 2013 he would be leaving NSA.]

  • Major General John “Sunny” Uberti, USA, USSTRATCOM/Chief of Staff

(July 2013-Present)

  • Remarks last for approximately 12:17 minutes