Award Ceremony in honor of Admiral William Gortney and Major General Juraj Baranek
Messieurs les Parlementaires,
Admiral and Mrs. Gortney,
Major General and Mrs. Baranek,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It’s a great pleasure and privilege for our Defense Attaché General Caïtucoli and for me to welcome you all tonight to the French Residence in Washington, and I’d like to extend a very special word of welcome to the two recipients we are honoring this evening, as well as their families and friends who have joined us to express their support and admiration.
Let me also recognize the members of the French Parliament who have traveled to the United States as members of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly. We are truly honored by their presence (MM. les Députés Michel Lefait, Francis Hillmeyer et Guy-Michel Chauveau, et M. le Sénateur Xavier Pintat.
I would also like to acknowledge the Ambassador of Slovakia, H.E. Peter Kmec.
We have gathered here to pay tribute to a general officer of the United States Armed Forces – Admiral William Gortney, United States Navy, and Major General Juraj Baranek of the Slovak Armed Forces, for their contribution to furthering cooperation with the French Armed Forces.
Our gathering tonight bears testimony to the fact that our two countries owe each other their very existence as free nations and that from Yorktown and La Fayette to the battlefields of World War I and the beaches of Normandy, France and the United States have always stood shoulder to shoulder to defend the values of freedom and democracy that we together gave the world over 200 years ago.
September 11 is a case in point: in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, France was the first country to offer its military assistance to the United States. Indeed, in October 2001, French officers were the first among allied nations to be assigned to U.S. Central Command in Tampa to assist in the preparation of the mission in Afghanistan. In early 2002, our first French detachment was on the ground to help American troops eradicate the Taliban and al-Qaeda elements, a fight that our courageous and dedicated soldiers have carried on side by side, at the risk of their lives, for the past ten years.
Let’ s have a special thought tonight for the ones who are still there, training the Afghan Army and police, and setting that country on a firm path to peace and stability.
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Since I am about to present the insignia of the Legion of Honor to Admiral Gortney, I thought a few words about this distinction might be appropriate.
The Order of the Legion of Honor was created in 1802 by Napoleon Bonaparte to recognize outstanding services rendered to France, on the basis of personal merit. The medal itself was designed by the 18th century French painter Jacques-Louis David.
The Legion of Honor is France’s highest award and one of the most coveted distinctions in the world ; and the rank of Officer is quite exceptional. The decision to bestow it is taken by the President of the Republic, who is the Grand Master of the Order.
Among its most illustrious American recipients, one can mention the late President Ronald Reagan and General Dwight Eisenhower as well as Generals Norman Schwarzkopf and Colin Powell.
It is therefore fitting that we are gathered today in this stately room also known as “Salon Napoleon.”
I will now introduce the recipient.
Admiral William Gortney, you entered the United States Navy as an aviation officer candidate. In December 1978, you earned your fighter pilot wings.
You have flown an impressive 5,500 flight hours and 1,300 carrier-arrested landings mainly in the A7E Corsair II and the FA-18 Hornet on board U.S. aircraft carriers.
Your fleet assignments were as a pilot and executive officer in Attack Squadrons aboard the aircraft carriers USS Nimitz, USS Theodore Roosevelt, USS Forrestal, as well as USS Dwight D. Eisenhower, where you served as Deputy Commander, Carrier Air Wing Seven.
Your command duties took you on three occasions between 2002 and 2010 to the U.S. Central Command area of operations supporting Maritime Security Operations and combat operations, as part of Operations “Enduring Freedom” and “Iraqi Freedom.”
These command tours included Carrier Air Wing 7 aboard USS John F. Kennedy, Carrier Strike Group 10 aboard USS Harry S. Truman and U.S. Naval Central Command, the U.S. 5th Fleet.
More recently, from 2010 to 2012, your ashore assignment was as Director of the U.S. Joint Staff at the Pentagon.
When you served as Commander, U.S. Naval Forces, in the CENTCOM area of operations, you demonstrated a strong commitment to maintaining good interoperability with the Allied Forces. You were especially instrumental in establishing excellent relations between U.S. Navy ships and the naval assets deployed by France in the Indian Ocean, including the aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle, thus enabling the development of a trusting, fruitful and warm partnership with your French counterparts.
In recognition of your commitment to French-American friendship, and your sustained efforts at developing and maintaining a productive relationship with the French Navy while deployed in the Indian Ocean, in particular, the President of the French Republic has awarded you the medal of Officier of the Legion of Honor.
Admiral William Gortney, au nom du Président de la République, nous vous remettons les insignes d’Officier de la Légion d’honneur.
Let me now turn to General Baranek who is about to be presented with the National Order of Merit.
This French Order was created in 1963 by General de Gaulle during his presidency to recognize French citizens, as well as foreigners, for major achievements benefiting France.
Among its most renowned recipients, one can mention King Juan Carlos of Spain, Laurent Fabius, our current Minister of Foreign and European Affairs, U.S. Marine Corps General James Jones, and U.S. Army General Wesley Clark.
The rank of Commander, that I will bestow upon General Baranek, is truly exceptional.
Major General Juraj Baranek, in 1980, you graduated from the Slovak Air Force Academy and, in 1983, from the Brno Military Academy.
Since receiving your pilot wings, you held numerous command duties at all levels, as flight, squadron, wing and base commander. In 1998, you were assigned as an international fellow to the Air Command and Staff College at Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, Alabama. In 2001, you attended the Defense Diplomacy course at Cranfield Royal Military College of Science and, in 2003, the Royal College of Defense Studies in London.
Subsequently, you served as Deputy Chief of Operations and Training on the Slovak General Defense Staff.
Prior to being assigned as Defense, Military and Air Attaché to the Embassy of the Slovak Republic in Washington, you spent five years as Chief of Staff of the Slovak Air Force.
In that capacity, you held one of the major positions in the Slovak military hierarchy. As a most experienced officer with an international background, you demonstrated great conviction and perseverance in your desire to make the Slovak Air Force a trusting partner of NATO and the European Union.
Moreover, you showed a strong interest in promoting bilateral military cooperation between France and Slovakia, which has always been one of your priorities during your brilliant career.
In recognition of your sustained efforts in supporting cooperation projects between the French and Slovak Air Forces, you have been awarded the medal of Commandeur in the French National Order of Merit.
Major General Juraj Baranek, au nom du Président de la République, nous vous remettons les insignes de Commandeur de l’Ordre National du Mérite./.