SCOTT AIR FORCE BASE — Gen. Paul Selva officially assumed command of the U.S. Transportation Command in a one-hour ceremony Monday afternoon featuring Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey and a bagpiper in a tartan kilt.
The ceremony -- unprecedented in U.S. military history because it involves transitions for three four-star generals at once -- ended with a 17-gun salute to Gen. William Fraser III, retiring U.S. Transcom commander.
In a speech before he accepted his command, Selva applauded Fraser for building a reputation based on trust.
"No matter the challenge, no matter the location, we will deliver," Selva said. "Together, we will deliver."
Transcom, which oversees the Air Mobility Command, also based at Scott, is one of nine unified Defense Department commands.
It is responsible for managing nearly all the U.S. military's transportation needs, from using air tankers to refuel fighter jets, to moving food and medicine into disaster areas and weapons and ammunition in and out of war zones.
Hagel saluted the leadership records of both Selva and Fraser, as well as Transcom's track record for delivering people and cargo anywhere in the world on time.
"It's no exaggeration to say our military could not do its job without Transcom's capabilities on the ground, on the sea and in the air," Hagel said.
For a few hours Monday, the epicenter of America's defense establishment had shifted 1,000 miles due west, to the parade grounds of Scott Air Force Base.
With Hagel and Dempsey on site, plus a seeming legion of men and women with stars on their collars and shoulderboards, Transcom's airmen, sailors, Marines and soldiers went out of their way to look smart for the top brass.
All in all, Monday was a day of pomp and ceremony, a celebration of U.S. military might and tradition at a time of uncertainty and transition.
As America winds down the longest war in its history, the Pentagon confronts a litany of serious problems -- from the prospect of deep budget and personnel cuts, to resolving military challenges and crises in Asia, Africa and Eastern Europe.
A theme repeated during Monday's ceremonies centered on the resilience and skill of America's military personnel in the face of all challenges coming their way.
In the morning, during the change of command ceremony for Gen. Darren McDew -- who assumed Selva's job as commander of the Air Mobility Command -- McDew saluted the troops assembled before him.
"And I believe in you even more than you sometimes believe in yourselves," McDew said. "Because you are the most battle-tested, most battle-hardened airmen our Air Force has ever seen," McDew said.
The nation has entered into its 13th year of sustained combat, he said.
"Just think about it," McDew said. "We have never experienced that before in our nation's history. But for most of you it's all you know."
Dempsey lauded Fraser's 40 years of service to the Air Force and his wife Bev's support for her husband's career and the airmen serving in his commands.
"The good news is we're placing this command in the hands of another capable couple," Dempsey said. "Paul and Ricki Selva, you bring to Transcom a record of excellence and a clear passion for mission, people and their families."
Gen. Mark Welsh, the Air Force chief of staff, presided over McDew's change of command, while Hagel presided over the Transcom change of command ceremony.
McDew called on AMC's airmen to respond to "the urgency of now" and to treat every airman with respect and dignity.
"Our obligation is now," McDew said during a short speech. "Our challenges are now. Our challenges are real."
McDew told the airmen that they will face these challenges confronting AMC together.
"And our strength comes from that essential unity," McDew said.
McDew relinquished command Monday of the 18th Air Force, also based at Scott, which he has overseen since August 2012.
McDew, the son of a career Air Force non-commissioned officer and a 1982 graduate of the Virginia Military Institute, took the reins of one of the Air Force's major components with more than 132,000 active-duty, Air National Guard, Air Force Reserve Command and civilians workers. In addition, AMC encompasses one numbered air force -- the 18th Air Force -- 17 wings, two airlift wings and one air base group.
Selva, McDew's predecessor as AMC commander, spoke warmly of McDew, whom he first met at the Pentagon while both men held the rank of major.
"You will be great," Selva said. "You will be great."
The historic day ended with a speech from Fraser, the retiring Transcom commander, who thanked the senior officers and enlisted personnel on hand.
"For those I have worked for, I want to thank you for the lessons and the knowledge that you took to impart upon me," he said. "For those of you who worked with me and for me, I thank you for your patience, for your loyalty and your support."
Fraser, who took command of Transcom in 2011, said he knew that whatever challenges "are out there, that we will have the right leaders, at the right place, to make the right decisions."
A graduate of Texas A&M University, Fraser said: "It's time for this Aggie to giddy-up, move on down the trail. So may God continue to bless each and every one of you and our entire United States military and the United States. God bless each and every one of you."