MIAMI, Jan. 14, 2016 —
Navy Adm. Kurt W. Tidd took command of U.S. Southern Command during a ceremony at Southcom’s headquarters here today, succeeding Marine Corps Gen. John F. Kelly, who is retiring after four decades of service.
Defense Secretary Ash Carter and Marine Corps Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, presided over the ceremony.
"We count on you to be there when it matters most," Carter said, noting that Southcom’s priorities include responding to natural disasters, detainee operations at Guantanamo, preparing for contingencies, confronting criminal networks and disrupting human and drug trafficking.
Southcom, which is responsible for U.S. military operations in Central and South America and the Caribbean, has an area of responsibility of more than 16 million square miles.
"You work with partner nations to promote the rule of law and democratic principles, and help to strengthen professional, accountable militaries that respect human rights," Carter said of the command.
The military and civilian personnel at Southcom, the defense secretary said, continue to provide the people of the United States and its regional partners a "chance to live in peace, to dream their dreams, to live full lives."
The constant theme of Southcom is partnership, Dunford said.
The command's personnel make an extraordinary difference in developing the deep partnerships and relationships in the region that truly make a difference, he said.
"Pound for pound, I can't think of another organization that is more effective," Dunford said. "For the last three years, that performance is a reflection of Gen. John Kelly's leadership."
Carter and Dunford each praised Kelly’s decades of service and welcomed Tidd in his new role, noting that both men are exceptional military leaders who have made extraordinary contributions to the nation.
Tidd: 'Distinct Privilege' to Serve at Southcom
Tidd said he looks forward to working with the personnel at the command, the command's interagency partners and regional allies.
"It's a distinct privilege and a pleasure to be able to lead this wonderful organization," Tidd told reporters after the ceremony, explaining that Southcom has been safeguarding the interests of the nation for more than five decades.
"I look forward to the opportunity to work very closely with the many close partners with whom we share interests throughout this hemisphere," he said. "It's a wonderful partnership. We have close friends. We have shared national security interests."
At the ceremony, Tidd said the work for the command includes "building innovative solutions to complex transregional challenges" and beginning the next chapter in Southcom's annual multinational exercise, Partnership for the Americas.
Tidd previously served as the assistant to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and commanded U.S. Naval Forces Southern Command and U.S. 4th Fleet.
Afloat, he commanded Carrier Strike Group 8 aboard USS Dwight D. Eisenhower during a combat deployment in support of coalition forces in Operation Enduring Freedom.
He said he is honored to succeed Kelly, whose career also comprised three combat tours in Iraq and multiple command assignments around the world, including commanding Marine Forces Reserve and Marine Forces North in Iraq from October 2009 to March 2011.
"There is no officer in uniform today who is steadier under fire, more capable in the heat of battle than John Kelly," Tidd said. "He is the gold standard of integrity, humility and heart -- one of the finest officers I know."
Tidd added, "It's an honor and it's a privilege to be able to follow in his wake."
Kelly's Farewell to Southcom
Kelly, who became Southcom’s commander in November 2012, said it was a great honor to serve with a command that has such a wide and deep mission.
He lauded the dedication and hard work of the civilians and military personnel who build those important relationships and partnerships in the region, working as diplomats, social developers, human rights advocates, and economic developers.
"They have made a difference, not only for our country, but for our partner nations," Kelly said.
The general praised regional allies as well, noting, "I cannot tell you the honor it's been to make friends throughout Latin America -- equal friends, equal partners."
(Follow Lisa Ferdinando on Twitter: @FerdinandoDoD)