"Storm clouds on the horizon"- Panetta at U.S. Pacific Command change, Hawaii

Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and other leaders discussed major U.S. interests and unique security challenges at today's U.S. Pacific Command change of command ceremony in Hawaii. Photo: Department of Defense/Glenn Fawcett

CAMP H.M. SMITH, HAWAII, March 9, 2012 – Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta participated in a change of command ceremony to replace retiring Adm. Robert F. Willard with Adm. Samuel Locklear as the new commander of the U.S. Pacific Command (USPACOM).

USPACOM, headquartered on Oahu, is one of the largest unified combatant commands in the Department of Defense and encompasses approximately a fifth of America’s military forces.

In attendance also was Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey, senior military officers and civilian leaders from various Asia-Pacific countries as well as Hawaii Governor Neil Abercrombie, Honolulu Mayor Peter Carlisle and members of the state legislature.

Several former Hawaii elected officials were also present including former Congressman Ed Case and former Honolulu Mayor, Mufi Hanneman.

Secretary Panetta opened his ceremonial remarks with glowing words for Hawaii and a lighthearted joke about being grilled by Congress that brought intense laughter and loud applause to the room.

“As you may know, [CJCS Martin Dempsey] and I have spent the last few weeks in hearings up on Capitol Hill,” he began. “And fortunately, as Catholics, we believe that after spending a certain amount of time in purgatory, that you’re entitled to go to Heaven, and Sam Locklear, you may not be St. Peter, but this is about as close to Heaven as you’ll get.”

Adm. Locklear, who as of that ceremony now leads USPACOM, was credited by Panetta as being a key leader in directing last year’s operation in Libya and the removal of Muammar Qaddafi.

Panetta: “remain vigilant and aware of potential storm clouds on the horizon”

Panetta also spoke to attendees about the importance of Hawaii and the Asia-Pacific region to the U.S. defense strategy, calling it “an extremely important theater” in “a critical moment in history when America’s future in many ways depends on the peace, and the prosperity of this very vital region” and highlighted the security challenges of the world’s largest body of water.

Making reference to the December 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor and his trip today to the Arizona Memorial, Panetta warned, “That sacred memorial reminds all of us who have a special duty to protect this country, to protect America, that we must always remain vigilant and aware of the potential storm clouds on the horizon and we must never, never lower our guard.”

“I can’t think of a more critical time when the nation needs the very best, the very best in military experience, in military leadership, in military advice, to be able to confront the challenges and the threats that we face in the world today,” Panetta went on to say.

“When I look across the world at the threats and at the challenges we face as a nation, from terrorism to natural disasters, from proliferation of nuclear weapons of mass destruction to rogue nations and rising powers in the Pacific, this region has most of those threats here,” he warned.

“Merely operating in the vast expanse of the Pacific Ocean poses daunting operational and logistical challenges, challenges to being able to deploy and sustain our forces. And yet no matter what the challenge, no matter how daunting a calamity, now matter how tense the standoff between nations, PACOM has always delivered, has always been there, has always been there when our allies needed them most and has always, always excelled.”

Clausewitz, beefed up U.S. operations and deployments across Asia-Pacific

Referencing the classic military tactician Carl von Clausewitz, Panetta also went on to caution, “In this region, we don’t just need a great warrior, we also have to need in a commander a great diplomat” and praised the outgoing Adm. Willard for being adept in strengthening America’s alliances and building new partnerships with Taiwan, Indonesia and Vietnam.

“We have stayed vigilant and committed to the defense of the Republic of Korea during a time of transition on that peninsula. We’ve reassured our friends and our allies that we’re committed to the Pacific by enhancing our presence across Asia. We have established new rotational deployments of our Marines in Australia,” Panetta announced. “We have forward stations of our littoral combat ships in Singapore and we are exploring options for advancing cooperation with the Philippines. PACOM has also worked to restore and build those very important mil-to-mil relationships that are so important in dealing with China.”

Following his speech, Secretary Panetta presented the outgoing USPACOM commander, Adm. Willard, with the Defense Distinguished Service Medal.

North Korea’s arsenal in the hands of “an untested 29 year old”

Adm. Willard in his outgoing speech spoke about the joys of his Navy career, his time as an F-14 pilot and his time serving as commander of the Pacific forces. Speaking of the death of Kim Jong Il and the rise of his son Un, Willard warned the audience that North Korea’s nuclear weapons “are now in the hands of an untested 29 year old.”

Priorities for the new commander

Speaking immediately after Willard, the new commander of USPACOM, Adm. Locklear spoke reassuringly to the audience that he would continue to ensure the stability of the region and was anxious and ready to serve.

“I’m deeply appreciative of your trust in confidence in me and I will guarantee it will take this vast and critically important Asia-Pacific region forward in the right way,” Locklear said to the audience, speaking with inspiring words and eloquent analogies.

“I’m extremely privileged to assume this command that is well led, well organized and is a superbly purposed combatant command, a command that has clear strategic intent, and clear direction from our nation’s leadership,” he said.

“So to the men and women of Pacific Command, here’s a glimpse of what lies ahead: Adm. Willard has massively charted a course to help us navigate the dynamic 21st century security environment, and as any good naval officer, I expect a smooth transition from his hand on the helm to mine,” Locklear said.

“Now if you’re navigating your ship through a channel, and its going well in the channel and you relieve the watch, the last thing you do is put the rudder over hard and make significant changes overnight. You’re certainly to run on shoal water. So we will see on the path that Adm. Willard has set us upon.”

Locklear called his command “the vanguard of the new U.S. defense strategy, a strategy that clearly recognizes that we are a Pacific nation, with significant national interests, with key allies and partners throughout the Asia-Pacific region, a strategy that begins to rebalance our Joint Forces towards this region, and we will proudly accept this responsibility of being in the vanguard and we will ensure that this strategy is efficiently realized.”

 


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Danny de Gracia

Dr. Danny de Gracia is a political scientist and a former senior adviser to the Human Services and International Affairs committees at the Hawaii State Legislature. From 2011-2013 he served as an elected municipal board member in Waipahu. As an expert in international relations theory, military policy, political psychology and economics, Danny has advised numerous policymakers and elected officials and his opinions have been featured worldwide. Now working on his first novel, Danny resides on the island of Oahu.

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