President Meta, Prime Minister Rama, Generals, Ministers, distinguished guests. What a glorious day we have before us. I thank you for inviting me to speak on this historic day. I want to commend the Albanian Armed Forces and the Ministry of Defense for organizing today’s extraordinary ceremony and I have to say our soldiers and sailors are looking spectacular!
I want to especially welcome Generals Wolters, Harrigian, and Cavoli to Albania. It is a truly rare occasion when three American four-star generals are gathered in one place at the same time. Thank you for being here. We are honored to join you in kicking-off Exercise Defender Europe 21. Your presence reaffirms that Albania’s leadership role in this exercise is significant, and that Albania’s role in the Alliance is increasing.
If you look around the region, and you tally the exercise activities during Defender 21, you’ll notice that Albania is hosting more events than any other country in the region. You may think that’s just an accident, but it is not.
First, Albania’s role in NATO is more important than ever. Albanians have fought alongside us, krah per krah, in numerous conflicts around the globe. We will never forget your sacrifice, and we will always be grateful that when America needs you – when your allies need you, NATO is there, and Albania is always at our side. We know your bravery, and we are honored to call you, our Ally.
Second, Albania is a special place and a strategic location. As an Alliance member, Albania offers an important foothold that can enable NATO and the United States to respond to regional contingencies and crises quickly and effectively. Exercise Defender 21 rehearses this concept and demonstrates the ability to enter southeastern Europe through Albania, and validates Albania’s ability to host multinational forces.
Finally, we commend Albania’s willingness to step up. You have been vocal in your support for the United States and NATO. You have never hesitated to offer your troops or to offer to host our Allies in your country. You have repeatedly stressed to us Albania’s strategic and tactical potential. We heard you, and we are here, and we are so grateful for your hospitality, your partnership, and your courage.
This exercise in Albania is historic in and of itself, but it is also worth mentioning that some of the most complex and important aspects of Exercise Defender 21 are underway here in the Port of Durrës. This logistical port operation we are all here to witness today demonstrates the U.S. military’s ability to strategically deliver military forces to the point of need, quickly. Our rehearsal of this concept reminds us all that the United States’ commitment to NATO remains ironclad.
Several months ago, I visited this port and there were no visible indications that any exercise of this scale was about to happen. Today, we are fully underway. The military’s ability to transform this length of concrete into a strategic logistics hub is incredible. Planning an operation of this size and scale is no easy feat and what we see around is testament to the work and resolve of our military servicemembers, all other nations participating, and our host Albania.
It is particularly fitting that Defender Europe 21 is occurring in the year that we celebrate the 30th anniversary of the reestablishment of diplomatic relations between the United States and Albania. There is no better way to celebrate our commitment to this relationship and to the people of Albania. This historic exercise, I believe, is the beginning of greater things to come, we’ll train together more frequently, we’ll operate together more widely. We remain with you Krah per krah today, tomorrow, and always.