MARINE BARRACKS WASHINGTON — The Marine Corps' 37th commandant accepted the battle colors Thursday morning with an emphatic "Let's go do this!"
Gen. Robert Neller,?, assumed command of the Corps during a two-hour change of command ceremony here at Marine Barracks Washington, replacing Gen. Joseph Dunford, who was commandant for less than a year before being coming named the next Cchairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
In an address to fellow Marines, family, prominent politicians and foreign military representatives, Neller expressed gratitude for his selection and vowed to continue to stay on track with Dunford's recently issued guidance, yet hinted at unspecified changes.
"I support the plan, we're going to execute the plan, but we're going to need some slight deviations," he said.
He echoed these comments in a release issued shortly after the ceremony, committing to maintain Dunford's "institutional momentum" as well as publishing a fragmentary order, or FragO, to Dunford's planning his guidance no later than the start of the new year New Year.
Neller, an infantry officer, is the right person to carry the Marine Corps through the challenges ahead, said Defense Secretary Ash Carter.
"Bob is a tested warrior and an innovative strategist — never hesitating to act and always planning ahead," Carter said. "Like Bob says, 'If we're planning to win, we can't just show up.' I agree." embraced his fundamental task of recruiting, training and equipping Marines, as well as turning individuals into teams, teams into units, and forming the "team of teams" of the Marine Ground Air Task Force.
MAGTF capabilities will be sharpened, he said, then globally deployed to deter adversaries, assure allies, and meeting the needs of the United States – whether disaster relief, reinforcing embassies or taking on risks to national security.
"That's what we do," Neller said. "We make Marines, we build teams, we fight and win. I understand that; it's pretty clear to me: I've seen it, and it's a beautiful thing."
Neller concluded his brief remarks by saying how humbled he was to accept these responsibilities.
"So now I understand what I have to do," he said. "It's a great honor and a privilege to take this on … let's go do this!"
Dunford, who gave a farewell speech ahead of Neller, said the Marines Corps is are fortunate to have Neller as their its new leader. Neller, he said, has the right passion, compassion and extraordinary operational credibility to assume the position.
"He has the energy and vision to take us into the future," Dunford said. "[His wife] Darcy and Gen. Neller will absolutely take care of our Marines, our sailors and their families. We couldn't be in better hands."
Reflecting on his brief tenure as commandant, Dunford invoked baseball great Lou Gehrig. When Gehrig prematurely left the New York Yankees, he didn't emphasize the fact he was taking off his pinstripes, but spoke about how fortunate he was to have been part of the team for 17 years.
"This morning I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth," Dunford said, paraphrasing Gehrig. "Who wouldn't consider themselves fortunate to stay in [the] ... Marines'] ranks and claim the title of a United States Marine for even just one day?"
Carter thanked Dunford and his wife, Ellyn, for their commitment to the Marine Corps. He cited testimony from several Marines who served under or alongside Dunford. During the early years of the Iraq War, one Marine said then-Col. Dunford would lead from the front during difficult times. Another recalled how Dunford refused armor inserts for his flak jacket until every Marine under his command had access to the same protective gear.
"He loves his men and he is loved by his men," Carter said. "...These Marines say more than any of us could about the character and leadership of this great man."
While his tenure as commandant was short, Carter said he and the president have bigger plans for the general.
"We're not done with Joe yet," Carter said. "He was the first and obvious choice to lead our force as the chairman of the Joint Chiefs. And I speak for everyone when I say how fortunate we are that Joe's counselcil and wisdom will continue to guide our nation's security for years to come."
Dunford said he has had a front-row seat over the plast year as Marines performed what's been asked of them, including a Humanitarian assistance disaster relief mission in Nepal, deploying as first responders response in to the Ebola crisis, reinforcing embassies in Africa, continuing the fight in Afghanistan and taking on the fight to the Islamic State group. All of that, he said, have captured the essence of Marine flexibility and agility.
He cited the example of Special-Purpose Marine Ground Task Force Crisis Response–Central Command, which comprises about 2,500 Marines, operating across ose 2,500 members conducted simultaneous operations in six different countries in one day last February.
"That's relevance, that's capability, and the results speak for themselves," he said.
Dunford also recalled sitting in Neller's seat barely one year ago. As he took over command from Gen. Jim Amos, Dunford said he was able to say with absolute confidence that the Marine Corps was in great shape.
"And I will tell you that nothing I have seen over the past year has given has given me any reason to doubt that your Corps is [still] in great shape," Dunford said.