MANAMA, Bahrain (NNS) -- Vice Adm. Timothy J. Keating, commander, U.S. Naval Forces Central Command/Commander, U.S. 5th Fleet, was relieved by Vice Adm. David C. Nichols Jr., Oct. 7 in an official ceremony in Bahrain.
In his farewell speech, Keating praised U.S. 5th Fleet Sailors and Marines for their accomplishments during the last 20 months under his leadership. Most notably, Keating said, were their essential contributions to the success of Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF).
"Last February, I visited many Sailors and Marines in the region, and I had a message. 'Be ready,'" Keating said. "And they were ... you were. You were ready when you were needed most, and you performed superbly."
At the height of OIF, five carrier strike groups, three amphibious ready groups, and two amphibious task forces, totaling more than 200 U.S. and coalition ships with more than 80,000 Sailors and 15,000 embarked Marines, reported to Keating as Commander, Naval Forces Central Command (CENTCOM). Keating's other responsibilities included Commander, U.S. 5th Fleet and Coalition Joint Forces Maritime Component Commander.
Technological superiority, advanced communications, and historic naval warfare tactics, combined with extensive use of special forces and more than 800 Tomahawk land-attack missile strikes, softened Iraqi defenses, and allowed the coalition to take control of Baghdad within three weeks.
More than 780 Navy and Marine Corps aircraft were among the 1,800 total coalition aircraft used in OIF. Naval aircraft from aircraft carriers and large deck amphibious ships flew nearly 14,000 sorties in support of OIF, averaging 1,500 sorties per day. USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72), USS Constellation (CV 64) and USS Kitty Hawk (CV 63) carrier strike groups (CSG) conducted operations from the Persian Gulf while USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75) and USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71) operated from the U.S. 6th Fleet's waters in the Mediterranean. All five CSGs, as well as coalition ships from 17 countries, were under Keating's operational direction during OIF.
"U.S. and coalition Sailors and Marines involved in OIF and the continuing global war on terrorism fought aggressively and intelligently, with audacity and courage," Keating said. "Be fully confident in the knowledge that Sailors and Marines deployed in NAVCENT [Naval Forces Central Command] have earned the support of our countrymen and millions of freedom-loving people around the world."
Naval forces in the theater still play an integral role not only in the rebuilding of Iraq, but also in the continuing global war on terrorism. Nichols, with his extensive experience in the region, was a natural choice to succeed Keating.
"I cannot think of a more superb naval officer than David Nichols to serve as my successor," Keating said. "He comes to this area with great regional experience. He is a dynamic leader. The Sailors and Marines in 5th Fleet are truly blessed to have him taking the reins."
Nichols returns to the theater with significant experience in CENTCOM. He commanded Attack Squadron 196 aboard USS Independence (CV 62) in 1990-91 during Operation Desert Shield. He also commanded Carrier Air Wing 2 aboard Constellation in 1994-95 in the Persian Gulf, in support of Operation Southern Watch.
Nichols served as Deputy Director of Operations for U.S. Central Command between 1998 and 2000. During Operation Enduring Freedom from 2001 through 2002, he served as Deputy Commander, Joint Task Force Southwest Asia and Combined Air Operations Center Director at Prince Sultan Air Base. Most recently, Nichols commanded the Naval Strike and Air Warfare Center in Fallon, Nev., but was temporarily assigned as Deputy Coalition Forces Air Component Commander during OIF.
"It is an honor for me to be chosen to lead the Navy and Marine Corps' finest in this theater," Nichols said. "With our brethren in the coalition of the willing, I am privileged to lead a cooperative engagement for global peace. Even though most of the kinetic operations in Iraq are complete, I trust that everyone in this area of responsibility will continue to give 100 percent to ensure peace and stability are maintained regionally."
"This staff has earned my undying appreciation for the sacrifices you've made during the last year-and-a-half," Keating said to the members of his team. "You were called upon for sacrifice, for strenuous labor, for gut-wrenching, split-second decisions. Because you were schooled in the traditions of our great Navy, you had the strength and wisdom to make the right calls.
"Because of you, millions of people in Iraq are now able to speak and worship freely, engage in commerce, and can pursue a life of liberty and happiness. You can - and should - be proud of a job done better than anyone else could have accomplished it."
Keating's next assignment will be as Director of the Joint Staff in Washington, D.C.
For related news, visit the Commander, U.S. Naval Forces Central Command/ Commander, 5th Fleet Navy NewsStand page at www.news.navy.mil/local/cusnc.