Rumsfeld Welcomes Marine Corps New Commandant

American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Nov. 13, 2006 - The Defense Department's top civilian welcomed the Marine Corps' new commandant today during a change-of-command ceremony at the Marine Barracks here.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld watched as outgoing commandant Gen. Michael Hagee passed the Marine Corps' battle flag and command to Gen. James T. Conway.

Rumsfeld praised both officers at the ceremony, citing Hagee's myriad accomplishments over the retiring general's long career.

As commandant, Hagee "left behind a Marine Corps that under his watch has become the best-trained, the best-led, and the best-equipped force in history," Rumsfeld pointed out.

Hagee has led the Marine Corps during some of the organization's most challenging times, Rumsfeld noted, citing the Marines' hard fighting in Fallujah, Ramadi and other parts of western Iraq.

As he looked at hundreds of Marines attired in their striking dress-blue uniforms, Rumfeld remarked that heroes aren't in short supply in the Marine Corps.

"We can say with pride that many of this nation's bravest young people are those who proudly wear the eagle, the globe and the anchor," the defense secretary asserted.

Rumsfeld pointed to the heroism of Marine Corps Cpl. Jason Dunham, of Scio, N.Y., the second Medal of Honor recipient from Operation Enduring Freedom, who gave his life to save his fellow Marines. On April 14, 2004, in the Iraqi town of Karabilah, Dunham covered an about-to-explode enemy grenade with his helmet and body, saving the lives of his fellow Marines. Dunham was seriously injured by the blast, and died of his wounds eight days later.

The defense secretary also recounted a meeting he'd had with a badly wounded Marine being treated at Bethesda Naval Hospital, Md. The Marine's fighting spirit was still strong despite his injuries, Rumsfeld recalled.

The wounded Marine had also expressed his wish, the secretary noted, that the American people would grant the military the time it needed to defeat the terrorists in Iraq.

"America is truly blessed to have young men and women like him willing to risk their lives in defense of our country and the cause of human freedom," Rumsfeld said. "Mike Hagee and I have been fortunate, we have been able to meet and know these fine, young people, every day, and see heroism up close."

The Marine Corps is also fortunate to have Conway step up to take over the reins from Hagee, Rumsfeld said. Conway led the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force in Iraq, the secretary recalled, and he had also shaped the minds of promising leaders at Marine Corps University.

The Marines and other members of the U.S. military "are in the hearts and the prayers of everyone here and the people all across our country," Rumsfeld said.

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