Command of U.S. forces in Asia and the Pacific and Indian Oceans passed to a new commander on Monday at a ceremony in Honolulu, Hawaii. Navy Admiral Robert Willard said the U.S. commitment to the region will continue.
In a ceremony steeped in tradition, Admiral Timothy Keating transferred command of all U.S. forces in the region to Admiral Willard, who has been working for him as chief of U.S. Navy forces in the area for the last two years.
Secretary of Defense Robert Gates noted that Pacific Command is responsible for U.S. military operations in half the world, and conducts a variety of missions ranging from humanitarian efforts to building relations with allies and helping to keep hostile states and organizations at bay.
"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.
Gates said that while most of Asia is "relatively stable," currents of historic, economic and cultural problems lurk just below the surface.
The newly installed Pacific commander, Admiral Willard, said the region has become much more important to the United States and the world in recent decades.
"Constant throughout that time was a recognition of the vast and growing importance of Asia to the rest of the world. As both an economic engine in its own right and as a major thoroughfare for U.S. and world commerce, our nation's interests are here," Willard said. "And for our nation, Pacific Command has an essential presence in the Asia-Pacific region."
Willard said that people in the region need to understand Pacific Command's role, and trust that the U.S. commitment to the region will continue.