WASHINGTON, Aug. 3, 2011 — Calling him “one of the military’s most original thinkers,” Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta today paid tribute to Marine Corps Gen. James E. Cartwright in a farewell tribute at the Marine Barracks here.
Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, will retire in the coming weeks.
Panetta said Cartwright became known for pushing the boundaries of technology in the military.
“He possesses a unique blend of technical and strategic brilliance that has been the hallmark of his career,” Panetta said. “It’s a perspective he developed and honed as an aviator with a serious intellect and with impressive academic credentials.”
The secretary said that in his previous position as CIA director, he’d worked closely with Cartwright to strengthen the ties between the defense and intelligence communities. Cartwright’s efforts and insights led to “extraordinary progress” in the two organizations’ combined effort against al-Qaida, he said.
“It had a real impact on the battlefield,” the secretary added.
Panetta said Cartwright was the first person he turned to for guidance when intelligence developed on Osama bin Laden.
“He was instrumental in the planning and execution of the operation that took bin Laden down,” the secretary said. “It is an achievement that all of us are very proud of, particularly because it is an example of the kind of teamwork, courage and unique skills that make the United States of America one of the strongest countries in the world.”
Cartwright’s other significant contributions to defense capability included pushing the Defense Department to curtail unnecessary acquisition programs in favor of real-world systems, Panetta said.
“He was the perfect officer to drive these program decisions,” the secretary said. “As an aviator and as an all-purpose gearhead, he knew technology, he knew the platforms, and his rigorous analytical work convinced skeptics in the services, convinced skeptics in the Congress, and convinced individuals in the White House that he was the man to turn to.”
Cartwright entered the military in November 1971, and he leaves it a better institution for his presence over the last four decades, the secretary said.
“Your dedication, your keen mind, your strategic vision have left the United States armed forces a more capable and a more lethal force,” Panetta said.
Deputy Defense Secretary William J. Lynn III also spoke during the farewell tribute, and echoed the secretary in stressing Cartwright’s role as a “change agent” for defense.
“His signature trait is to see around corners,” Lynn said. “He can spot trends [and] think a decade ahead better than just about anyone else.”
If there is a defense policy or strategy issued in the past four years that embodies new thinking, Lynn said, “Hoss’s fingerprints are all over it.”
Cartwright was a key architect of DOD’s recently issued cyber strategy, Lynn said.
“He intuitively grasped the need to conceive of cyber as an operational domain, and to restructure our forces to operate within cyberspace,” Lynn said.
Cartwright, along with former Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, saved service members’ lives by overriding a cumbersome acquisition system to speed record numbers of mine-protected vehicles to troops in combat, Lynn said.
“His fondness for big thoughts … and the willingness to fight to make people consider them, is the highest form of devotion to those on the front lines,” Lynn said.
Lynn, on Panetta’s behalf, presented Cartwright with the Defense Distinguished Service Medal. Cartwright also will receive the Army, Navy, Air Force and Coast Guard distinguished service medals.
Cartwright thanked the secretary for his remarks and said one of the first times he worked with Panetta was during tragedy. The two went to Dover Air Force Base, Del., for the return of seven intelligence agents killed in Afghanistan, Cartwright said.
“It was a tragedy,” he said. “I will never forget the grace that you showed the families.”
Families go to Dover hoping that somehow there has been a mistake, Cartwright said. “Confronting that takes a special kind of character, and to go up and participate in that takes a special kind of character,” he added. “I, and all who have fallen, and all who honor those that have fallen, thank you for that.”
Cartwright told Lynn, “It’s been a good run.” As fellow deputies, he said, the two made a difference for the nation’s warfighters.
Cartwright’s responsibilities as vice chairman have included chairing the Joint Requirements Oversight Council and co-chairing the Defense Acquisition Board. He has served as a member of the National Security Council Deputies Committee, the Nuclear Weapons Council and the Missile Defense Executive Board. He also co-chairs the Deputies Advisory Working Group, which provides advice to the deputy secretary of defense on resourcing and other high-level departmental business issues.
Cartwright was commissioned a second lieutenant in the Marine Corps in November 1971. He completed naval flight officer training in April 1973 and graduated from naval aviator training in January 1977. He has piloted the F-4, OA-4 and F/A-18. He is a distinguished graduate of the Air Command and Staff College at Maxwell Air Force Base, Ala., and holds a master’s degree in national security and strategic studies from the Naval War College, Newport, R.I. The general completed a fellowship with Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Cartwright’s command positions include 1st Marine Aircraft Wing and U.S. Strategic Command. He also has served on the Joint Staff as deputy director for force structure and requirements, and as director for force structure, resources and assessment.
U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)