Stavridis Becomes First Sailor in Charge of U.S. Southern Command
By Kathleen T. Rhem
American Forces Press Service
MIAMI, Oct. 19, 2006 They may not start calling the walls “bulkheads” or the floors “decks” at U.S. Southern Command headquarters just yet, but for the first time, a sailor has taken command of U.S. military operations in Latin America and the Caribbean.
“I’m very proud to come as a Navy officer and be the first admiral to take command of SOUTHCOM,” Navy Adm. James G. Stavridis told reporters today after assuming command in a midday ceremony at SOUTHCOM headquarters here.
He later told American Forces Press Service that he thinks the move is a significant step toward an increasingly joint operating environment. “It shows that jointness has moved to a high level, allowing an officer of any service to serve at any of the combatant commands, regardless of ‘traditional’ service assignments,” he said.
“It also reflects the high degree that maritime issues matter in the area of responsibility, particularly given the Panama Canal, the trans-shipment routes for drugs through the Caribbean, and the huge expanses of water on either side of South America,” he added.
Nearly all countries in Central and South America have coastlines and maritime forces. Stavridis has worked with navies from many Latin American and Caribbean nations during his 30-year Navy career.
“Throughout my naval career, I've had the opportunity to sail through these waters: the Caribbean, I've been through the Panama Canal multiple times, in and out of Guantanamo multiple times,” he said in an interview earlier this week. “I've operated at one time or another with, I would venture to say, all the seagoing navies in the region.”
Stavridis also commanded the Enterprise Carrier Strike Group, which for a time included an Argentine destroyer, the Sarandi. “The Argentine navy placed her in our strike group, and we trained together and worked up together and she deployed with us to the Mediterranean Sea in 2003.”
At today’s change of command, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said Stavridis “has spent a good deal of his career at sea taking on tough assignments, notably commanding a carrier strike group in support of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.”
Maritime forces are critical in the counterdrug arena, as well. Drug runners in the Caribbean and the Pacific typically use “go-fast boats” to try to outrun military and law enforcement assets from the U.S. and other nations. As international forces become more efficient at stopping these boats, narcotraffickers are now turning to submarines to evade interdiction, Coast Guard Rear Adm. Jeffrey J. Hathaway, commander of the Joint Interagency Task Force South, said in an interview this morning.
JIATF South is a subordinate command of U.S. Southern Command. Hathaway was up from his headquarters in Key West to attend the SOUTHCOM change of command ceremony. He said he was “delighted” to have his seagoing comrade in charge of SOUTHCOM.
Still, Hathaway said, being a sailor isn’t what secured Stavridis the command. “He’s being brought in here by the secretary of defense for the great mind and way of thinking he brings, and not because of the color of his uniform,” Hathaway said.