How to Write a Change of Command Speech

Chances are you’ve been in one of the following situations:  a member of a formation suffering under a long change of command speech; an audience member embarrassed for the speaking commander because his speech is really bad; or a soon-to-be ex-commander staring at a blank page on the morning of your own departure speech. Sound familiar?

Don’t worry, we’ve all been there. The change of command speech is important but it can sneak up on you in the distracted days before the big event. Here are some thoughts to consider as you prepare for the transition. There are sections for Incoming Commanders, Outgoing Commanders, and some general tips.

Change of Command

Maj. Brian Harber, executive officer for the 1st Battalion, 24th Infantry Regiment, 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, salutes Lt. Col. Jeff Stewart, outgoing commander of the 1-24IN, signifying the Soldiers are ready for inspection during a change of command rehearsal ceremony at Ladd Parade Field here June 29. Lt. Col. Stewart relinquished command of the battalion to Lt. Col. Matthew MacNeilly during a ceremony at Fort Wainwright, Alaska July 2, 2012.
(U.S. Army Photo By: Sgt. Thomas Duval, 1/25th SBCT Public Affairs) Link to photo.

Going Into Command

  • Keep it short (2-3 minutes)
  • Introduction:  welcome the guests, but don’t run down the entire laundry list of guests. You’ll be the third person to speak, and the guests will feel plenty-welcomed by then.
  • Be sure to thank:
    • The Chain of Command for the opportunity
    • The Outgoing Commander & his/her family
    • Your spouse & family
    • The troops, and express gratitude for the honor of joining their team
    • Write two sentences about the privilege to command and how you’re looking forward to what the future will bring
    • Do not say “All policies and procedures remain in effect.” First, it sounds ridiculous and cliché. Second, there’s no regulation or policy requirement to do so, nor is there any expectation that Army regulations and UCMJ are no longer applicable if you don’t say those seven words at your change of command. And finally, it’s not true. You’re going to change every policy letter when you resign it under your name. And, heaven forbid, you might actually change some things because, well, you’re the commander and you have the authority to do so.

Leaving Command

  • Keep it short(ish) (8-10 minutes)
  • Introduction:  go ahead and thank the key guests for attending. Welcome General Officers and equivalent Sergeants Major by name. Welcome your commander by name. Welcome all others by group, unless an individual stands out in some significant way (Medal of Honor recipient or “Honorary Colonel of the Unit”).
  • Include some mention of why we serve, and of the concepts duty, honor, and sacrifice.
  • Honor fallen/wounded Soldiers, as appropriate.
  • Relive the story of your time in command, but from the Soldiers’ perspective, not yours.
  • Retell some stories using individual names (“The company’s success during NTC grew out of the individual efforts of men like squad leader SSG Goldman, who single-handedly breached the wire obstacle on the final objective.”)
  • Thank:
    • Your Chain of Command
    • The unit for their sacrifice
    • Your staff and higher headquarter’s staff for putting up with you
    • Adjacent and supporting/attached units as necessary
    • Your key staff members
    • Your senior enlisted leader
    • Your spouse

General Tips

  • Rehearse your speech NO LESS THAN 10 TIMES!!
  • Get feedback from your peers and spouse on content and timing.
  • Don’t ad-lib unless you are a gifted orator or an extrovert who can carry a crowd.
  • Type your speech in big font and wide paragraph spacing, put the pages into sheet protectors, and prepare them in a three-ring binder at the podium.
  • Have a second fully functioning binder in case the Adjutant loses the primary.
  • If you’re cool, consider putting the formation At Ease.
  • DO NOT NOT NOT forget to thank your spouse! There is no chance that you would have been as successful as you were without him/her, so you should probably state that fact publicly.
  • And finally…please don’t cry.

Resources

Here are a couple resources I found after writing this post. CanUWrite.com: Good points for both Incoming and Outgoing commanders. Check out what CompanyCommandSolutions has to offer, too. (Looks like the author stopped posting but there is some good content there.)

What other tips and thoughts do you have about preparing for a change of command? Leave a comment below.

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Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • Larry Redmond

    Larry Redmond; As a past commander in the 82d Airborne I found your advice on target and correct except that in a change of command speech even 8-10 minutes may be too long. While assigned at Bragg I must have heard 35-40 Change of Command addresses averaging over 20 minutes each. When I gave up my command I chose to keep mine short and focused on the troops. Took me 2 minutes and 50 seconds. I should put it on your Comment Page.

  • Robert Nixon

    Overall good stuff, thanks! With only 30 years in the Army so far, and having changed command several times myself, and heard hundreds of these speeches as a Bandmaster, I’ll just add a few thoughts:
    -Glad you mentioned to thank the VIPs, senior enlisted CSM or 1SG, and spouse, so also consider mentioning the command Chief Warrant Officer if there is one. It’s more of a common thing at higher command levels now, and it’s easy to overlook the W’s in addition to the O’s and E’s.
    -If it’s a smoking hot day and a long ceremony, make the speech shorter, or even (for really long ceremonies like Division and higher) consider asking the Soldiers on the field to take a knee, if even for a few seconds.
    -If it’s a change of command in a foreign country and on top of the three speeches (two commanders and senior commander) there is a translator, make it REAL short!
    CW5 Bob Nixon

  • Bearigator

    Company.
    Incoming: 45 seconds
    Outgoing: gracious, funny, not of a braggadocio nature.

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  • Casey

    Great pointers! Especially when it comes to recognizing key members of your team by name. I also agree about getting off script. Like humor, it’s used often, but rarely effective. Your reasons for not saying “All policies…” make sense too. It’s one of those things that every says. If I ever get the opportunity to command again, I’ll remember The Military Leader’s comments about keeping it out of the speech.
    Where we differ is length of speeches. Incoming guy should never go over a minute. There’s not need. Outgoing guy can also get his message across in 5 minutes. I’ll be honest, near the end of both of my outgoing speeches, I got emotional. Especially when it came to the support of my Family. That’s who I am and I feel no guilt about it. So maybe a little crying is ok…

    • 🙂 Thanks for the note Casey! It’s always a cliffhanger at every speech to see if the guy will say “All policies…” You’re right; good rule of thumb for incoming guy – can’t go too short!