MCRD PARRIS ISLAND, S.C. -- General James L. Jones stepped down from command of the Marine Corps Jan. 13, handing the reins to Gen. Michael Hagee during a ceremony at the U.S. Naval Academy.
General Jones stepped down 6 months before the end of his first term as commandant to become the commander, U.S. European Command and NATO's supreme allied commander Europe later this month. General Hagee arrives at the Headquarters post from his last job as commander of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force.
"They know the grave consequences of war," said Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld of the two men. "They have fought with energy and intellect to keep America safe and our people secure."
In his opening remarks at the ceremony, Rumsfeld restated his drive to transform the military, and emphasized the Marine Corps leadership's willingness to transform.
"We are truly fortunate to have men and women of courage who are able to look over the horizon at what is possible, and to help in transforming the military to meet the new challenges we face in this dangerous new century," said Rumsfeld. "To live as free people in this 21st century, our country must be able to defend our way of life against the forces of terror and fear."
The secretary praised the attitude of transformation Gen. Jones had driven toward during his tenure as commandant, specifically citing his decision to reactivate the 4th Marine Expeditionary Brigade, a unit aimed at defeating terrorism. Likewise, Rumsfeld pointed at Gen. Hagee's demonstration as a fit commandant by leading the Marine Corps in every echelon of leadership from platoon to MEF. He said he expects Gen. Hagee to continue to accelerate the process of transformation of the Corps.
When he arrives at the NATO post, Jones will become the first Marine officer to hold the U.S. and NATO positions. Rumsfeld called on Jones to continue his spirit of transformation there as well.
"When young men and women raise their hand to join one of the armed services, they are signing a contract to do what must be done," stated Gen. Jones. "Those of us who are privileged to lead must meet their expectations because their expectations are equally important to ours."
General Jones also thanked his fellow members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff saying they demonstrated a degree of teamwork that is unparalleled and will continue to develop in the years ahead.
He said the Marines are ready for whatever may happen. "This is a time when Marines, along with their colleagues in other services, are marching to the sound of distant drums," said Gen. Jones. "We do so with full confidence that we know who we are, we know what we do, and if we must fight, we will fight and we will win."
General Hagee accepted the leadership of the Corps at the Naval Academy, where the 58-year-old Marine started his career upon graduation in 1968. He went on to command an infantry platoon and company during combat in Vietnam before returning stateside to lead a battalion at Camp Lejeune, N.C., and the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit with the 1st Marine Division at Camp Pendleton, Calif.
"No one doubts that when Marines arrive they are ready to fight and we are going to win," said Gen. Hagee after accepting the colors during the ceremony.
He also read an e-mail from the wife of a young Marine deployed with the 1st Expeditionary Force in which she wrote, "It is an honor to serve my country by supporting my husband. This is a job he loves and I will support him as long as he chooses."
"That's your Marine Corps today," pointed Gen. Hagee. "I look forward to working with Marines and to build on the two strong foundations we have: excellence in war fighting and taking care of one another."