YOKOSUKA, Japan (NNS) -- U.S. 7th Fleet held a change of command ceremony on board USS Blue Ridge (LCC 19) Sept. 10.
Vice Adm. John M. Bird was relieved by Vice Adm. Scott R. Van Buskirk at the ceremony.
"I stand before you an exceptionally fortunate and profoundly grateful man," said Bird. "It is a deep honor to have been afforded the privilege to command the U.S. 7th Fleet."
Adm. Patrick M. Walsh, commander, U.S. Pacific Fleet, praised Bird for his "outstanding leadership of the U.S. 7th Fleet during the past two years."
"John applied his deep-rooted sense of responsibility and substantial intellectual prowess to ensuring the effectiveness of our naval forces in the region," said Walsh. "Today, our navy-to-navy relationship (with Japan) is more relevant and important than ever before - it is a bond characterized by maturity, respect and cooperation."
Bird led U.S. naval operations in the 7th Fleet Area of Responsibility, encompassing more than 48 million square miles from the Kuril Islands in the north to the Antarctic in the south, and from the International Date Line to the Indian Ocean. The area includes 35 maritime countries and the world's five largest foreign armed forces - China, Russia, India, North Korea and Republic of Korea (ROK). Five of the seven U.S. Mutual Defense Treaties are with countries in the area - Republic of the Philippines, Australia and New Zealand, ROK, Japan and Thailand.
During his tenure, Bird and his ROK navy counterpart, Vice Adm. Park Jung-hwa, signed an operational plan (OPLAN) for Korea to take a lead role in its wartime defense. Following the sinking of the ROKS Cheonan (PCC-772), Bird sent U.S. ships to assist with the recovery and salvage and provided assistance to the international investigation team.
Bird also oversaw a series of events with the Japan Maritime Self Defense Force to mark the 50th anniversary of the U.S.-Japan Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security, including a series of joint visits to ports around Japan and an unprecedented level of operational cooperation, particularly in the area of anti-submarine warfare.
U.S. 7th Fleet forces under Bird's command also provided humanitarian assistance following significant natural disasters in Taiwan, the Philippines and Indonesia.
Walsh presented Bird with the Distinguished Service Medal for his service.
"When I stood on this deck 27 months ago, I provided clear guidance to the fleet articulated in three persistent priorities - maximize warfighting readiness, maritime partnerships and force posture," said Bird. "These priorities are concisely captured by our motto - "Ready Power for Peace."
"This incredibly dynamic region has witnessed many difficult challenges over the last two years - natural disasters, provocations against ships on the high seas and the tragic sinking of an allied ship operating innocently in its own territorial waters," said Bird. "These events have served to strengthen my conviction that our mission is essential, that our priorities are right and that our task will become even more challenging in the future."
Van Buskirk, a native of Petaluma, Calif., assumed command of U.S. 7th Fleet following a tour as deputy commander, U.S. Pacific Fleet. Bird's next assignment is as director, Navy Staff, Office of the Chief of Naval Operations, in Washington, D.C.
"It is truly an honor and privilege to stand here today in command of the 7th Fleet," said Van Buskirk.
"My orders are simple," said Van Buskirk. "Push forward, aligned to our persistent priorities - warfighting readiness, maritime partnerships and force posture; engage with our allies and friends."
There are 60-70 ships, 200-300 aircraft and more than 40,000 Navy and Marine Corps personnel assigned to the 7th Fleet. This includes forces operating from bases in Japan and Guam and rotationally-deployed forces based in the United States. Commander, U.S. 7th Fleet, is embarked aboard USS Blue Ridge (LCC 19), forward deployed to Yokosuka, Japan. The flagship commands and controls the fleet and fosters military-to-military relationships through scheduled port visits and military exercises.
For more news from Commander, U.S. 7th Fleet, visit www.navy.mil/local/c7f/.