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Panetta Praises Outgoing, Incoming Southcom Commanders

By Army Sgt. 1st Class Tyrone C. Marshall Jr.
American Forces Press Service

MIAMI, Nov. 19, 2012 – Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta commended the lasting accomplishments of the former commander of U.S. Southern Command today and welcomed a new, but familiar, officer to lead the combatant command here.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta, Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Air Force Gen. William Fraser III applaud Marine Corps Gen. John Kelly after he took command of U.S. Southern Command during a ceremony in Miami, Fla., Nov 19, 2012. Kelly took over the command from Fraser. DOD photo by Erin A. Kirk-Cuomo

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

Panetta presided over the Southcom ceremony as Air Force Gen. Douglas M. Fraser retired, relinquished his command to Marine Corps Gen. John F. Kelly.

“This afternoon, we pay tribute to two very extraordinary officers, to their families, and to the service members and civilians that they have led,” Panetta said. “We celebrate General Fraser’s nearly four decades of selfless service to our country, his strong leadership in a number of key positions, and his many lasting accomplishments as Southcom commander.”

The secretary highlighted some of Fraser's early years as he came “full circle” from high school where he, fittingly, graduated in Bogota, Colombia, to his rise to SOUTHCOM commander as the last active-duty member of his Air Force Academy class of 1975.

“Thanks to his extraordinary record of accomplishment, Doug was an excellent pick to be the first-ever U.S. Air Force officer to lead this command,” Panetta said.

“Shortly after taking command, General Fraser was faced with one of the most significant operational challenges that SOUTHCOM has ever faced when it had to face the devastating earthquake in Haiti,” he said.

The secretary described Fraser's “immediate” actions leading Southcom's disaster relief efforts during Operation Unified Response, “the largest humanitarian assistance and disaster relief mission this command has ever undertaken.”

“In total, Southcom delivered 2.3 million meals, 17 million pounds of bulk food, 2.6 million bottles of water, [and] 150,000 pounds of medical supplies, among many, many other services,” Panetta said.

The defense secretary noted the devastation caused by Haiti's earthquake “underscores the fact that the key security challenges in this hemisphere are … transnational.”

“Natural disasters, sometimes horrendous, in their impact on people and their countries, illicit trafficking, organized crime, narco-terrorism, the threats to security in the Americas are not contained by political boundaries,” he said.

One of General Fraser’s most significant and enduring contributions, Panetta said, has been rallying support across the U.S. government in order to focus more attention on Central America as it confronts illicit drug trafficking.

“[This command] has helped galvanize U.S. and Western Hemisphere support for enhanced engagement in this region,” he said. “We’ve made significant progress in partnering with the militaries of Central American nations, and they are now taking greater responsibility for their own security.”

Panetta also noted that Fraser's efforts with Southcom’s Joint Interagency Task Force South brought interagency and international cooperation to new levels, with Operation “Martillo” taking “152 metric tons of cocaine – worth almost $3 billion – off the market” in 2012.

“All of these accomplishments are the direct result of Doug's steady, but sure, leadership,” he said. “I want to [personally] thank everyone at SOUTHCOM for all you do to keep America safe.”

Panetta also welcomed another “dedicated” leader to assume Fraser's position leading SOUTHCOM – Kelly, Panetta’s own former Pentagon staff member.

“He's been my senior military assistant since I came to the Pentagon last year,” he said. “He’s always been at my side as a trusted confidant and a trusted friend.”

“More than anyone, he has ensured that the daily reality of those serving on the front lines informs and guides every decision that I've made,” Panetta said. “I could not have done my job without his judgment and blunt, honest counsel.”

The defense secretary called Kelly “the true embodiment of a warrior” and said he felt honored to promote the officer to four-star general prior to the change of command ceremony.

“I will be eternally grateful to him, and to be honest, while I will miss him, he will be a great commander here at Southcom,” Panetta said. “I, very much, look forward to relying on his perspective and forthright advice as he leads our military efforts in this region.”

Panetta used an “old Air Force metaphor” as he expressed his confidence in Kelly as Southcom's new commander.

“The Frasers have taken this command to a higher altitude and, with today’s change of command, I’m confident that, in [the]extraordinarily capable hands of John Kelly, it will soar even higher in the future,” he said.

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Leon E. Panetta

Related Sites:
U.S. Southern Command
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