CAMP H.M. SMTH, Hawaii (NNS) -- Admiral Timothy J. Keating will bring the same good judgment and decisiveness to the U.S. Pacific Command that he demonstrated as commander of U.S. Northern Command, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said here March 26.
Gates spoke at a ceremony in which Keating assumed command of the largest U.S. combatant command, which encompasses 51 percent of the Earth's surface and includes 43 countries.
Gates said the admiral has demonstrated that he is able to handle a wide variety of complex and challenging assignments.
"He commanded a carrier group based in Japan, and later the Navy's 5th Fleet during Operation Iraqi Freedom," Gates said.
As the commander of U.S. Northern Command, he was responsible for guarding the United States "against a range of threats and means of attack from weapons of all kinds -- some so small that they could even fit inside a thimble. His area of responsibility ranged from our nation's cities and coastlines to outer space and everything in between."
Keating, whose father served in World War II, assumed command under a cloud-studded Hawaiian sky. Flags snapped in the tradewinds as he accepted the flag signifying the change of command. He said he believes in the "power of the Pacific," and that PACOM servicemembers and civilian employees will work collaboratively with other agencies and ambassadors to perform the missions needed to protect the United States, its allies and American interests in the region.
"We are going to work hard to minimize internal staff churn and 'self-licking ice cream cone' assessments and instead concentrate on working with our ambassadors and our forward troops throughout this theater," the admiral said.
Gates thanked the men and women of U.S. Pacific Command. "I know that Admiral Keating would agree that much of what has been accomplished in this region is due to your dedication and professionalism," he said. "You and your families have our appreciation and thanks for everything you do for our nation."
Representatives from many countries in the Pacific Command area of operations - including Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, Australia and New Zealand -- attended the ceremony.
"I suspect that Admiral Keating may be visiting many of your countries in the coming months," Gates said.
The secretary said the sheer size of the command demands any country's attention. "But more than that, the scope of relationships and challenges encompassed in this area of responsibility are key to the security and continued welfare of the United States," he said.
The area is home to some of America's oldest allies on one hand and some of its emerging relationships on the other, Gates said.
"A great many partnerships across this command - old and new - have grown considerably stronger in recent years," the secretary said. "The restoration of military relations with Indonesia comes to mind, as does the strengthening of our long-standing ties with Japan and Australia."
Gates said the nations of the region must face both the newest and oldest threats to security. Missile and nuclear proliferation are problems, as is the threat of piracy. But there are other uncertainties as well, he said.
"Countries with limited transparency are taking actions that seem contrary to international stability - causing other countries to question their intentions," the secretary said. "And violent jihadists are trying to undermine the foundations of free society that have allowed many countries in this region to prosper."
Keating understands today's challenges and opportunities, Gates said. "He is fully prepared to continue the record of accomplishments that the countries of this region have built together," Gates said.
"The opportunities are immense. They are profound," Keating said. "We are going to capitalize on that."
He said the command and all its members will work hard to ensure a better quality of life for people throughout the region, free lines of communication, and the development of free and democratic societies throughout the Pacific Command area of responsibility.
Keating succeeds Adm. William J. Fallon, who took command of U.S. Central Command on March 16. Air Force Lt. Gen. Daniel P. Leaf, PACOM's deputy commander, served as interim commander until the ceremony.
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