WASHINGTON — There is no more important duty than protecting the homeland, Defense Secretary Ash Carter said in Colorado today, and he thanked the men and women of U.S. Northern Command and North American Aerospace Defense Command for their efforts.
Carter presided as Air Force Gen. Lori J. Robinson took command of Northcom and NORAD from Navy Adm. Bill Gortney.
“The American people and your families, our families, can sleep soundly knowing that you and your colleagues across our government are awake to defend and protect them,” Carter said.
NORAD is the only binational command, and Canadian Defense Minister Harjit Sajjan said he was proud to represent his nation at the ceremony. He noted that since 1958, NORAD has been the continent’s first line of defense against air attacks.
“While the geography remains the same, we have added more than half a century of common history,” he said. “Unfortunately, much of this common history deals with conflict. What receives less attention are the models of cooperation when nations, institutions and individuals work together. NORAD is certainly a shining example of how two countries can, and continue to, work together for mutual benefit.”
The threat has certainly changed since 1958 with the growth of international terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, both Carter and Sajjan said.
“Whether in defeating [the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant] or in defending our nation against other threats that reach across borders, our alliance with Canada is indispensable,” Carter said. “The United States and Canada are working together every hour of every day to provide a more prosperous and secure future for the citizens of both our nations.”
Warmer Relations With Mexico
The secretary also noted that under Gortney’s watch, the U.S. relationship with Mexico has become much warmer – the leaders of the Mexican army and navy attended the change of command.
“I want to thank our Mexican partners for their determination to expand our continental defense partnership,” Carter said. “Mexico has become a global exporter of security, both on this continent and beyond. I want to applaud Mexico for their growing defense relationship and also for continuing to ensure that common values and respect for human rights are the foundation of security efforts across the hemisphere and around the world.”
The secretary praised Gortney also for his leadership in peace and war. The admiral began his Navy life as a pilot, and the secretary noted Gortney had logged more than 5,000 hours piloting A-7s and F/A-18 Hornets. He made more than 1,200 carrier landings and flew combat missions in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“After accumulating a tremendous record of success as a pilot, he transitioned seamlessly to become one of the Navy’s most successful sailor statesmen,” the secretary said.
Gortney said that while NORAD was created in response to the Cold War, U.S. Northern Command owes its existence to 9/11. The command is a supporting command to civil authorities in the United States in the event of disasters or attacks. “Regarding such events, may we continue to be overprepared and underemployed,” he said.
Robinson took command receiving the NORAD flag from Gen. Jonathan Vance, the chief of the defense staff of the Canadian Armed Forces. She received the U.S. Northcom flag from Carter.
“Undeniably the power and strength of NORAD and U.S. Northern Command is derived from its sustained partnerships with joint, interagency and multinational organizations,” she said. “This is best represented by the fact that nearly 60 DoD and non-DoD federal agencies, department representatives and liaison officers are integrated into the headquarters.”
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