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.

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there’s no regulation or policy requirement to do so, nor is there any expectation that Army regulations and UCMJ are no longer applicable if you don’t say those seven words at your change of command.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.

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

And be sure to check out Victoria Wellman’s book on writing the perfect speech, Before You Say Anything. She is a renowned speech coach and has crafted memorable speeches for influencers, politicians, entrepreneurs, Olympians, NFL stars, astronauts, rap stars, artists, and activists.

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