Keating Passes Pacom Torch to Willard
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
CAMP SMITH, Hawaii, Oct. 19, 2009 Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, presided over a change-of-command ceremony here today as Navy Adm. Timothy J. Keating passed the U.S. Pacific Command helm to Navy Adm. Robert F. Willard.
Willard assumed command of the 250,000-member command that includes all military forces in the Asia-Pacific region during a ceremony at Pacom headquarters, high on a hillside overlooking Pearl Harbor.
It was a stirring ceremony with ship's bells and a boatswain's pipe announcing the arrival of the official party, followed by a 19-gun salute. Jim Nabors sang the national anthem and Ciana Pelekai, the Hawaii state song.
Gates lauded Keating’s 42-year naval career in the cockpit, on land and at sea. A U.S. Naval Academy graduate, Keating is an F-18 Hornet pilot with 5,000 flight hours and 1,200 landings on the deck of an aircraft carrier.
But he also distinguished himself on land, as commander at U.S. Northern Command, Gates said. Recognizing his accomplishments there, as well as his “unique skills and strategic vision,” the secretary said, he recommended Keating for his most important assignment at the oldest and largest U.S. combatant command.
Pacom’s area of responsibility stretches across 36 nations that include more than half the world’s population, and that represent more than $1 trillion in annual trade with the United States.
“Leading a military organization in this part of the world requires a deft touch, a diplomat’s sensibilities, a scholar’s sense of the past and a commercial tycoon’s business savvy,” Gates said. “Admiral Keating has provided all of that and more.”
Gates ticked off some of Pacom’s challenges: complex national and international agreements, relations and rivalries; vast distances within its boundaries; the ever-present danger of manmade and natural disasters; and the threat of international terrorism, among them.
“The relative stability of the region belies the historic, economic and cultural rip currents that exist just below the visible surface,” he said.
Keating has visited 29 of the 36 countries within Pacom since taking command two and a half years ago, fostering long-standing alliances along with new partnerships with other nations, Gates noted.
That outreach took him to Japan a dozen times, the Philippines about six times, Indonesia three times and China and India twice. Keating said he had hoped to visit China more frequently, a goal foiled after China cut off military-to-military relationships after the United States announced arms sales to Taiwan.
Mullen also praised Keating, who he said "understood the power of relationships and how to turn relationships into partnerships and partnerships into friendships."
Keating oversaw the revision of the Pacom strategy, built on three major tenets: partnership, readiness and presence. These, Mullen said, ensured Pacom remained "a cohesive and lasting power for peace and readiness."
Mullen wished Keating and his wife, Wanda Lee, "fair winds and following seas" as he welcomed Willard and his wife Donna to "the best job a Navy officer could have."
In his remarks, Keating evoked the vision of the founding fathers and said it's embodied in the servicemembers of Pacom who have served and sacrificed to keep it a reality.
But he also cited a less vaunted visionary, singer Jimmy Buffet, who sang of a world where "kids play on the shore all day and all are safe within."
This, Keating said, captures the same sentiment as lofty statements of strategy. And, he said, is the vision that drives the men and women of Pacom.
“It’s been a grand adventure,” Keating told Hawaii-based reporters as he summed up his time at Pacom. “I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”
Willard, who spent two and a half years as commander of U.S. Pacific Fleet, is a U.S. Naval Academy graduate with extensive experience in the Pacific region and knowledge of its history.
Willard said he's deeply honored to follow in Keating’s footsteps, noting, "Yours will be large shoes to fill."
He vowed to emulate Keating, both in his dedication to his staff that engendered tremendous loyalty, and by clear-eyed focus on Asia and the Pacific.
As the region has changed, the growing importance of Asia has remained a constant, Willard said.
He said he'll work tirelessly to ensure Pacom lives up to that challenge and that its role in U.S. national defense is understood.
"Our nation's interests are here," he said.