Robert Gates

Farewell To Admiral William J. "Fox" Fallon

delivered 18 April 2008


Admiral Mullen, thank you. Representative Tauscher, thank you for being with us today. I think I now know why sailors wear white.

Captain Wheeler, Command Master Chief Engles, the ship looks absolutely beautiful. Your men and women have done a great job -- and I know all of you will make us proud when you deploy later this year.

The USS Theodore Roosevelt could not be a better setting for paying tribute to Admiral Fallon, a man who has served our nation with honor and distinction for more than four decades -- and, as has been mentioned by Admiral Mullen, some of that time aboard this very ship.

Of course, when Fox first joined up, he did so largely to get an education. As he put it, he would “just do some time.” Well, Admiral, you have certainly done some time. Our country is stronger and safer because of your service. And those who have the opportunity to work under you and with you will now carry forward in their critical work with your example firmly in their minds.

In saying goodbye today, we bid farewell to one of the very last of a generation of officers who began their service in the Vietnam War. After flying numerous combat missions in that conflict, Fox went on to spend 24 years in flying assignments as a flight officer and logged more than 1,300 carrier arrested landings. In 1991, as Mike indicated, he commanded a carrier air wing aboard this ship during the Gulf War and in 1995 was the commander of the Theodore Roosevelt battle group as it supported NATO operations in Bosnia. And so I’m sure he feels at home today. His affection for this ship is best reflected in his choice of her as the site for his retirement ceremony.

Admiral Fallon took his keen understanding of the operational side of the Navy and applied it to the institutional side as vice chief. One event in particular stands out during that time period – one that highlights his diplomatic skills, and common decency. When Japanese fishermen were killed by an American submarine in 2001 as it surfaced, Admiral Fallon volunteered to go to Japan as the President’s representative and personally apologized to the Japanese government and to the victims’ families. It was no easy task -- but it demonstrated, clearly, that this is the kind of officer you want representing the nation abroad in times of crisis.

After a stint as head of the Navy’s Fleet Forces Command, Fox took over as commander of Pacific Command – one of the most complicated positions in the military. The responsibility was enormous – in charge of some 300,000 servicemen and women; and an area of responsibility that covered 43 nations and half the globe; some 60 percent of the world’s population; and potential flashpoints in both the Taiwan Strait and on the Korean peninsula. It is no surprise that one reporter called Fox the “most traveled man in the military.” And that was before he took over Central Command.

At PACOM, Fox built a legacy of trust and cooperation among the nations of the region -- a legacy I have seen firsthand as I have traveled through the nations in the AOR, both old friends and new friends. Among many other positive developments in recent years, we have resumed military-to-military relationships with Indonesia, developed new mechanisms to address maritime security, advanced our friendship with Japan, and seen our efforts with China continue to yield greater levels of military-to-military engagement. Fox oversaw the first joint exercises with China, and just in recent days we have built on that foundation by installing a military hotline between our nations.

Of course, none of this is to say Fox never gave the Chinese heartburn. I understand that on one visit to Beijing, he took his hosts by surprise when he took off on a jog through downtown Beijing. The Chinese ended up with plainclothes security officers -- in suits and dress shoes -- having to switch off in an attempt to keep up with him.

There is little doubt Fox’s imprint on Asia will be felt for many years to come – and far beyond just those hapless security officers.

I had to really work hard to persuade Fox to leave PACOM. At the time, he even worried a bit that he was too old to start fresh at a new command. As I noted a couple weeks ago, since I’m older than he is, that didn’t cut much ice. And it would have cut even less ice had I known then that, at age 60, he had taken up surfing as a hobby.

He eventually gave in and agreed to take on a new, tough assignment -- and he did so with unparalleled energy, ideas, and diplomatic skill. Under his command, the last year in Central Command’s AOR has been one of great progress on a number of fronts. We are all familiar with the tremendous progress that have been made in Iraq. As we identify the best way to ensure that these gains are not lost, Admiral Fallon has been a valued voice. He has advised the President and me, and I can tell you that his suggestions, his thoughts, and his candor have been valued and critical in determining the way forward.

Afghanistan, too, has seen successes in the last year. Our military is working more closely with our partners than at any time in the past. The Taliban has been rolled back. We are applying a coordinated and ever more effective strategy that focuses on non-military aspects of the fight.

Beyond Iraq and Afghanistan, the Middle East as a whole has also benefited from Fox Fallon’s leadership. He has applied the same strategic thinking and diplomatic skills in the Middle East that he did in the Pacific. Fox was the highest-ranking officer in more than decade to visit Lebanon, and the first-ever CENTCOM Commander. He had many firsts in that role. We can see the results in the increasing willingness of nations in the region to extend diplomatic support to Iraq, and to work together to confront shared threats through initiatives like the Gulf Security Dialogue.

When I recommended Admiral Fallon to the president for commander of Central Command, I told the President that we would benefit from one of the military’s most experienced senior officers and one of its best strategic minds in one of the world’s most complex regions. There can be no doubt how much we have benefited greatly from his leadership at Central Command this last year.

And there can be no doubt that the nation, as a whole, has benefited from his service for over four decades. His life’s work, his strength, and his integrity have advanced America’s interests and helped defend our nation and liberty. Fox, on behalf of the President, all of our men and women in uniform, and the American people, I thank you for your many years of service.

And I also thank your family for the support they have given you: your eight siblings; your four children, two of whom are in the Service; and above all, your wife, Mary. She has been at your side for all these many years, and I know you could not have served so faithfully without her love and support.

As the two of you embark on the next journey in your lives, I wish you both fair winds and following seas. I, and many others, will truly miss you.

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Page Updated: 9/17/18

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