No doubt a Friday afternoon ceremony, especially held outdoors on a beautiful sunny day, gets a crowd relaxed and eager for the weekend to begin. But make mention of “beer,” or any word hinting of a brew, and surely thoughts wander to the bar or six-pack at home. It’s good reason why reporters try to avoid any such mention in Friday interviews with Marines, at least not until the end.
In his speech during a Sept. 7 change-of-command ceremony at Camp Pendleton, Calif., Lt. Gen. Thomas D. Waldhauser praised the work and sacrifices of the Marines and sailors with Marine Corps Forces-Central Command and I Marine Expeditionary Force, honored his family and thanked his various staffs and mentors. He praised his wife Gail for her tireless advocacy for families, and noted that “when we go up to the bar this afternoon, and the last keg is done,” people would forget he was the MEF commander but they will always recall her work and dedication.
When it was his turn to speak, Lt. Gen. Robert B. Neller took the microphone and began to offer thank-yous. He paused briefly. “I think General Waldhauser said something about beer,” the new MARCENT commander told the crowd, “and I can’t get that image out of my mind.” The crowd chuckled. Then Neller got a little more serious. “I understand what you want me to do. The guidance you gave me is very clear,” he said. “We’ll get it done.”
Turning to Lt. Gen. John Toolan, a former 1st Marine Division commander, Neller reminded him that the operational demands in the U.S. Central Command region remain high. “Just say yes. I’ll be calling,” he said. He looked at the Marines standing in formation and told them: “Stay disciplined, stay focused, stay ready. I’ll see you in the AOR.”
Toolan, who recently commanded Marines in Afghanistan and now leads I MEF, made brief comments to the crowd. “I am very blessed to be able to take this command,” he said. Then he quipped he really did feel that way, noting, “Over the year’s I’ve heard many people say,’ John Toolan, bless his heart.'”
Waldhauser now heads to the Pentagon, where he will serve as Defense Secretary Leon Panetta’s senior military assistant. “It has been one helluva ride,” he said.