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Press Release | Nov. 19, 2014

Padilla Becomes 15th President of National Defense University

(Washington, DC) – Major General Frederick M. Padilla, USMC, assumed the duties as the 15th President of the National Defense University (NDU) from Ambassador Wanda L. Nesbitt in an Assumption of Presidency ceremony today. General Martin E. Dempsey, USA, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, presided over the ceremony, which was held on the university campus at Fort Lesley J. McNair.

Major General Padilla most recently served as Director of Operations with Plans, Policies and Operations at Headquarters Marine Corps. He has led Marines in operational command assignments at platoon, company, battalion and division levels; commanded a Marine detachment aboard the USS Canopus; served in multiple joint staff assignments; and served as Commanding General of the Marine Corps Recruit Depot at Parris Island, South Carolina. 

In accepting the responsibility of the presidency, Padilla reflected on the need for NDU’s unique capabilities. “Even a cursory review of intelligence summaries and news reports highlights the current and future security environment that is dynamic, unpredictable and fraught with challenges,” he noted. “Our country needs leaders who are able to creatively think and operate in a complex and rapidly changing world; leaders who can contribute to a whole-of-government approach and be successful in contingencies across the range of military operations.”

Ambassador Nesbitt, a career member of the U.S. Foreign Service, serves as NDU’s Senior Vice President and also served as Interim NDU President since July. In acknowledging her service, Dempsey expressed his appreciation, saying “Thank you, Ambassador Nesbitt, for your leadership during a period of transition. I have had, and continue to have, incredible confidence in you.” Prior to her current role at NDU, Ambassador Nesbitt served as U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of Namibia, Cȏte d’Ivoire and the Republic of Madagascar; as Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of Consular Affairs; and as Deputy Chief of Mission at U.S. Embassies in Rwanda and Tanzania.

In addressing the importance of professional military education for national security, Dempsey observed that, “Today in 1945, General George C. Marshall handed over responsibility as Chief of Staff of the Army to General Dwight D. Eisenhower. Marshall’s words were quite profound: He said, ‘The habit of concentrating on the question at hand, and an elasticity of mind are indispensable requisites for the practice of war.’ That is as true today as it was in 1945; maybe more true.”

In discussing NDU’s unique value, Dempsey said, “Of all the things we have to preserve at the National Defense University, it’s that interagency, whole-of-government, multinational relationship-building that is what will get us through what the future holds for us.”

Addressing the NDU students, Dempsey described an operational field message, known informally as a “yellow canary,” that Padilla keeps in his office. He received it in 2003, while preparing his Marines to move from Kuwait into Iraq and up to Baghdad. “That laminated canary has a simple message from his boss, Joe Dunford, now commandant of the Marine Corps,” Dempsey noted. “The words inscribed said simply, ‘Move out now. Move out immediately.’ There is a certain eminency, urgency and immediacy to life outside the National Defense University that will quickly consume you. The staff and faculty’s job is to prepare you to be able to respond to that immediacy when you’re confronted with it; you prepare by giving yourselves intellectual tools and ways of thinking about complex environments while you have the chance to do so.”

“In the spirit of that yellow canary, I know that General Padilla will move out now, move out immediately and implement the changes we’ve adopted at the National Defense University,” Dempsey said. “We are going to keep [NDU] the preeminent leadership development opportunity in the world.”

About the university: NDU provides rigorous Joint Professional Military Education to members of the U.S. Armed Forces and select others to develop leaders who have the ability to operate and creatively think in an unpredictable and complex world. For more information about NDU, please contact Mark Phillips, Director of Strategic Communications, at (202) 685-3140 or or visit  

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