by Army Sgt. 1st Class Tyrone C. Marshall Jr., American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, March 9, 2012 – The approximately 330,000 troops in U.S. Pacific Command have a new commander today, as their former top leader relinquished command.
Navy Adm. Robert F. Willard passed leadership of Pacom to Navy Adm. Samuel J. Locklear III at Camp H.M. Smith, Hawaii. Willard retired after nearly four decades of naval service.
“I can’t possibly express my full appreciation to U.S. Pacific Command’s 330,000 uniformed and civilian personnel who have supported our effort here and across half the world the past two-and-a-half years,” Willard said.
The command’s soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines and special operators “are really the forward face of the Asia-Pacific and Pacific Command,” Willard said. “And who for more than a decade shared rotations into and out of Iraq and Afghanistan with the rest of our nation’s joint forces, it’s been my profound honor to serve you.”
Willard expressed sorrow for the sacrifice of the men and women that lost their lives during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and reflected upon the words of comfort he provided to their families.
“In the last two years, two-and-a-half years, hardly a week passed that I didn’t sign letter of condolence to families of these brave service members,” he said. “I signed seven on Wednesday, and for that no words can express what they sacrificed.”
Willard said he noted the importance of the Asia-Pacific region when he assumed command of Pacom.
“When I assumed command of U.S. Pacific Command in 2009, the Asia-Pacific was a complicated place containing the largest economies, populations, militaries and diversities in the world,” he said. “In the intervening time, it’s grown more complex not less.”
Willard cited the sometimes rocky relationship between the U.S. and North Korea and concern about China’s military modernization among the complex regional issues.
“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.”
The incoming commander declared his intent to stay the course with current Pacom methods as he described his new assignment as a “dream come true.”
“Well, in my case, let me say I’m extremely privileged to assume this command that is well-led, well-organized and is a superbly purposed combatant command,” Locklear said. “A command that has a clear strategic intent and clear direction from our nation’s leadership.”
Admiral Willard “has masterfully charted a course to help us navigate the dynamic 21st-century security environment,” he added. “And as any good naval officer, I expect a smooth transition from his hand on the helm to mine … the last thing you do is put the rudder over hard and make significant changes overnight.”
Locklear expressed his gratitude to the nation’s leadership and lauded the service members in his new command.
“I’d like to take this opportunity to thank President Obama, [Defense] Secretary [Leon E.] Panetta and General [Martin E.] Dempsey for this opportunity and the privilege to lead the outstanding men and women of Pacom,” Locklear said.
“I’m deeply appreciative of your trust and confidence in me,” he added, “and well, I guarantee you we’ll take this vast and critically important Asia-Pacific region forward in the right way.”
Willard stated his confidence in his successor and the future of Pacom and the region.
“No one in the U.S. military is as well suited and prepared to face up to the challenges and opportunities as Admiral Sam Locklear,” Willard said. “And we’re thrilled for Pacific Command and the nation that our president and our secretary have postured the finest U.S. commander and spouse team possible in the Asia-Pacific.”
PHOTO: Navy Adm. Robert F. Willard, left, shakes hands with Navy Adm. Samuel J. Locklear III during the U.S. Pacific Command change-of-command ceremony on Camp H.M. Smith, Hawaii, March 9, 2012. Willard passed Pacom's reins to Locklear and retired after almost 39 years of service. DOD Photo by Glenn Fawcett