MONS, Belgium, May 4, 2016 —
In the face of a "resurgent Russia" and other emerging challenges, NATO needs to stay agile and ready to "fight tonight," the alliance’s new supreme allied commander for Europe said today.
Army Gen. Curtis M. Scaparrotti assumed command of NATO's Allied Command Operations from Air Force Gen. Philip M. Breedlove in a ceremony today at NATO's Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe here.
Scaparrotti took the helm of U.S. European Command yesterday from Breedlove, who is retiring from the military after 39 years of service.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg welcomed Scaparrotti and praised Breedlove's vision and leadership during a time of immense change and challenges in the security landscape, including with an aggressive Russia.
The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford, attended the ceremony. While not part of the public speaking program, he privately congratulated Scaparrotti and thanked Breedlove for his decades of service.
Dunford noted the challenges Breedlove has faced, including violent extremism and Russian aggression, Dunford's spokesman, Navy Capt. Greg Hicks, said.
In addition, Hicks said, Dunford commended Breedlove for his leadership as the NATO combat mission ended in Afghanistan and its current mission to train, advise and assist Afghan forces began.
Russia and Other Concerns
NATO is facing a "resurgent Russia striving to project itself as a world power," Scaparrotti said. Other concerns for the alliance are terrorism, as well as a refugee crisis "being driven by instability in North Africa and the Middle East," he said.
"To address these challenges, we must continue to maintain and enhance our levels of readiness and our agility in the spirit of being able to fight tonight if deterrence fails," he said.
Stoltenberg said NATO has entered a "new era of uncertainty," with serious and enduring challenges on its eastern and southern flanks. "NATO is ready and up to the challenge," the secretary general added.
Breedlove noted that Europe is a much different continent today from when he became NATO’s supreme allied commander for Europe in 2013.
"Together, NATO has come a long way in the past three years, as we took the initial steps on a path to being truly ready and responsive militarily and politically," he said.
Breedlove said he is confident NATO will continue to build on the "foundations of unity and strong partnerships so that we keep on adapting to the evolving changes and threats we see in front of us."
Stoltenberg said during Breedlove's time as NATO’s supreme allied commander for Europe, the alliance witnessed the "most significant change to European security since the fall of the Berlin Wall."
NATO Vital In Face of Challenges
NATO was founded on the principles of democracy, individual liberty and rule of law, Scaparrotti noted. In today's environment, he said, transatlantic cooperation is needed more than ever.
"Even with the end of the Cold War, our NATO alliance and its core collective strength remains vital as we face a new set of challenges," he said.
Scaparrotti, who formerly led U.S. Forces Korea, said he will continue Breedlove’s priorities and maintain the important relationships NATO has forged over the decades. "I recognize relationships are the cornerstone of the alliance, and lead to the mutual trust required for our continued success," he said.
Honoring Deployed Forces
The change-of-command ceremony included a flyover of four F-16s from the Belgian air force to pay tribute to all deployed NATO forces and honor Breedlove, who is a fighter pilot with more than 3,500 flying hours, primarily in the F-16. Under sunny skies, eight members of the NATO parachute demonstration team jumped from an airplane, each carrying a flag, and landing on the field to applause from the crowd.
The flag for the ceremony was delivered on the field by the youngest member of the Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe, 22-year-old U.S. Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Brittney Herrington, who afterward said she was extremely proud and honored to have taken part in the ceremony.
'Let's Go to Work'
The NATO secretary general said he has full confidence Scaparrotti will be an exceptional leader to help the alliance face its complex challenges.
"I know that you will do so with the same dedication, intelligence and professionalism you have shown throughout your impressive career," Stoltenberg said.
In his closing words at the ceremony, Scaparrotti had a message for the alliance: "Let's go to work."
(Follow Lisa Ferdinando on Twitter: @FerdinandoDoD)