U.S. Pacific Command has new chief
U.S. Navy Admiral Robert Willard Friday passed leadership of the U.S. Pacific Command to Samuel Locklear, commander of the U.S. Naval Forces in Europe and Africa, the American Forces Press Service reported.
A handover ceremony was held at Camp H.M. Smith, Hawaii, where U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta praised Willard as "a proven and very effective leader" who has "a remarkable, nearly four-decade career as a naval aviator."
Martin Dempsey, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, also praised Willard for his leadership since he took over the Pacific Command in 2009. "For almost three years, Bob (Willard) and his 330,000 teammates nobly represented our nation's prestige with 36 of the most-vibrant nations in the world," he said, Xinhua reported.
Panetta stressed the critical need to maintain a U.S. presence in the Asia-Pacific region. "This is an extremely important theater. And this is a pivotal moment in history when America's future, in many ways, depends on the peace and prosperity of this very vital region," he said in his opening remarks.
Noting the various security challenges and "the potential storm clouds on the horizon" for the United States, Panetta said that the country needs "the very best in military experience, military leadership and military advice to be able to confront the challenges and the threats that we face in the world today."
Dempsey agreed and stressed the important role played by the Pacific Command, whose responsibility "encompasses almost half of the Earth's surface and half of the world's population."
"It's also deeply intertwined with our nation's destiny in this 21st century, a fact that we made clear in our recently released emerging defense strategy," Dempsey said.
For his part, Willard said the Asia-Pacific, which was "a complicated place containing the largest economies, populations, militaries and diversities in the world" when he took over command in 2009, had "grown more complex, not less."
"President Obama's and Secretary Panetta's new defense priorities rightly focus on the Asia-Pacific," Willard said. "No other region in the world holds so much promise amidst its challenges."
At the ceremony, Locklear praised Willard for having "masterfully charted a course to help us navigate the dynamic 21st-century security environment," and handing over a command "that has a clear strategic intent and clear direction from our nation's leadership."
Locklear also promised to "take this vast and critically important Asia-Pacific region forward in the right way."
Locklear, 58, has since October 2010 simultaneously served as commander of the U.S. Naval Forces Europe and of the U.S. Naval Forces Africa. He is also the chief of Allied Joint Force Command Naples.
Moreover, Locklear was in charge of the NATO-led operations that helped topple former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi last year.