MARINE CORPS BASE HAWAII - After an impressive showing of Marine Corps pageantry, including a 19-gun artillery salute, a demonstration of musical proficiency by the U.S. Marine Corps Forces, Pacific Band and a sharp example of military drill by the parade formation, Lt. Gen. Duane D. Thiessen relinquished command of MarForPac to Lt. Gen. Terry G. Robling before retiring during a ceremony at Marine Corps Air Station, Kaneohe Bay aboard here, Aug. 2.
The change of command and departure of one of the Marine Corps’ top officers drew the attendance many distinguished visitors including Gov. Neil Abercrombie, Hawaii state governor, Adm. Samuel J. Locklear III, commander of U.S. Pacific Command, and Gen. James F. Amos, commandant of the Marine Corps and other current and former general officers. The Honorable Leon E. Panetta, Secretary of Defense, and the Honorable Ray E. Mabus, Secretary of the Navy, wrote letters of appreciation to Thiessen which were read during the ceremony.
Having had such a long relationship with Thiessen, Amos had a lot to say about his friend’s career, the entire time referring to Thiessen by his call sign, “Drano.”
Amos began by telling a story about how Thiessen’s grandchildren thought he was more important than both the Commandant of the Marine Corps and the commander of PACOM. Amos said they were probably right.
Next, Amos spoke directly to Thiessen in front of the audience. The tone he used made it seem like they were sitting alone there, having a private conversation.
“You know [you have] never once backed away from a tough assignment,” Amos said. “Everything that has been tough, you’ve been a part of. I remember meeting you when you were a colonel and were soon to be selected for brigadier general. You were working for the assistant secretary of the Navy for research, development and acquisition and your star showed brightly there. I remember reading one of the fitness reports that he wrote saying, ‘This colonel needs to be a general now, promote him immediately,’ and you were selected.”
“On behalf of those legions of Marines that have followed you, your command and your leadership, thank you, thank you for all that you have done and thank you for your faithfulness,” Amos added.
Afterward, Thiessen took the microphone to give his final remarks.
“I came into the Marine Corps in 1974, and I have to tell you, it was a screwed-up time in our national history,” he said. “The Marines today are far more effective, more disciplined and more capable than the Corps ever was in the 1970’s. And that’s true for all our services. The young Marines today and the young service members in all services are phenomenal when compared to any other time in our national history.”
Thiessen went on to list his significant mentors and leaders by call sign, giving a brief memory associated with each duty station he met them at. He named names like Habu, The Inn Keeper, Citation, Venom, Hawkeye and Viking. As he went on, it sounded more and more like he was naming members of the comic book series “Justice League.” But, you could hear the emotion in his voice. To Thiessen, these leaders were real heroes.
Perhaps those mentors would consider him a hero, too. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal for his achievements while commander of MarForPac. Brig. Gen. Kim Si-Hueng, deputy commander of the Force Planning Office, Republic of Korea Marine Corps, awarded Thiessen the Order of National Security Merit Gukseon Medal.
Maybe the most meaningful of all things presented though, was when Thiessen’s son, Capt. David D. Thiessen, presented him his three-star flag near the end of the ceremony.
The letters, awards and comments, as well as the attendance of friends and Marines from across the globe, spoke volumes about the character of Thiessen as a Marine and a leader. As much as this traditional ceremony marked a transition for Thiessen into civilian life, it also gave attendees a glimpse of the impact he has had during his 38-year career.
“Tomorrow, you’re going to wake up, you’re going to shave and you’re not going to run down town to get a bunch of tattoos or pierced ears or anything,” Amos said. “You’re going to look in the mirror and you’re going to say, ‘good morning Marine,’ because you’re going to be a Marine for the rest of your life. Semper Fidelis, my friend.”