Fraser Assumes Top U.S. Southern Command Post
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, June 25, 2009 Air Force Gen. Douglas M. Fraser assumed the top post at U.S. Southern Command today, promising to build on the strong partnerships fostered by the outgoing commander, Navy Adm. James Stavridis. Video
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates paid tribute to Fraser and Stavridis as he acknowledged the crucial role Southcom’s people play in promoting security and stability in Central and South America and the Caribbean.
From left, Air Force Gen. Douglas M. Fraser, commander of U.S. Southern Command; Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates; and Marine Corps Gen. James E. Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, congratulate Navy Adm. James G. Stavridis during the change of command ceremony at Southcom Headquarters in Miami, June 25, 2009. DoD photo by Air Force Master Sgt. Jerry Morrison
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
“The important work you do here every day is making a difference to the prosperity, security and freedom of your countrymen and to the people of the region,” Gates said during today’s change-of-command ceremonies at Southcom’s Miami headquarters.
Marine Gen. James E. Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, echoed that sentiment, praising a dedicated staff he said is making a difference in the region. “You have done incredible work, and it has not gone unnoticed,” at the Southcom headquarters, in the region or in Washington, he said.
As Fraser accepted the command’s colors -- and in a light moment during the ceremony, Stavridis’ “command BlackBerry” -- he said he brings a recognition of the opportunities and challenges at Southcom, and the importance of applying international, interagency and public-private capabilities to meet them.
“I will work vigorously every day to enhance the security across the region and to improve U.S. military relations with our partners in the region,” he said. “The transnational and transregional challenges we face to security, stability and prosperity in the Americas can only be met through strong and enduring partnerships.”
The vital relationships forged within the Americas by Stavridis and his predecessors at Southcom “have improved our collective security, but many challenges remain,” Fraser said. “Our nations and our citizens are counting on us to strengthen our interagency, our international and our public-private partnerships to effectively counter these strategic challenges.”
Gates praised Stavridis, who leaves Southcom to command U.S. European Command and serve as NATO’s supreme allied commander for Europe, for the leadership he demonstrated in applying this full range of power to the Southcom mission.
“From the start of his tenure at Southcom, Admiral Stavridis has fostered a spirit of interagency and international cooperation that reflects the post-Cold War realities of the 21st century,” Gates said. “He has made Southcom the embodiment of what is now called ‘smart power,’ drawing on the full strength of our nation and our partners to enhance the security, freedom and prosperity in this part of the world.”
Stavridis recognized as he took the Southcom helm that the region’s challenges, which range from narcotics to corruption and gangs to kidnapping, don’t lend themselves to traditional military solutions, Gates said. So Stavridis redrew the command’s organizational charts and “fundamentally reformed its institutional culture and ways of doing business,” he said.
Meanwhile, Stavridis reached out to regional nations in concrete ways to build bonds of trust and friendship, Gates said. He also used the latest tools and technologies to communicate Southcom’s activities and goals and instituted cultural and language training with his command so his staff would better understand and connect with the people of the Americas.
Gates noted some of the highlights of Stavridis’ time at Southcom:
-- The Colombian military’s freeing of three American hostages after five years of captivity;
-- Expansion of the annual Panamax exercises to include 20 countries, and 20 other military-to-military exercises last year alone;
-- Interdiction of nearly 700 metric tons of cocaine; and
-- Institutionalization of the way the command delivers humanitarian assistance and disaster relief when needed.
Cartwright shared Gates’ assessment of Stavridis’ capabilities. “Jim has brought so much to this command, and his ability to be a strategic thinker, and to connect the dots in widely diverse issues and understand that all of them are interrelated,” he said.
These qualities, along with Stavridis’ way of treating people “like family in everything and every endeavor has really moved this command along with the challenges that have been presented over the past few years,” Cartwright said.
Gates noted the important message sent by the postings --– Fraser as the first Air Force officer to command Southcom and Stavridis to become the first Navy officer in the top Eucom and NATO posts.
“The trajectory of these officers’ careers, and the billets they are now taking, is but one more indication of how joint our military leadership has become, and how much America’s global security arrangements have evolved since the end of the Cold War,” he said.
In bidding farewell to his command, Stavridis said he’s excited about the new opportunities ahead but sad to say goodbye to Southcom.
“I will miss this world. It will always be a part of me,” he told the group, which include representatives of regional countries. “My heart will always be in the Americas.”