Willard takes 'best desk job' as commander


POSTED: Tuesday, October 20, 2009

With Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Joint Chiefs Chairman Mike Mullen in attendance, Adm. Robert “;Rat”; Willard assumed command yesterday of U.S. forces in a region torn by recent natural disasters and under a growing nuclear threat from North Korea.

“;This half of the world has undergone immense evolution in just my 36 years of military service,”; Willard said after the ceremony at Camp Smith. “;And it's changing still. Yet constant throughout that time was a recognition of the vast and growing importance of Asia to the rest of the world.”;

Willard, an F-14 Tomcat naval aviator who had a cameo role in the movie “;Top Gun,”; succeeded Adm. Timothy Keating, who retired.

“;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,”; said Gates. “;Adm. Keating has provided all of that and more.”;

Mullen, a four-star admiral, said Willard had assumed “;the best desk job a Navy officer can have”; as head of the U.S. Pacific Command and leader of 325,000 military men and women and civilians in the Asia-Pacific area.

Immediately following the one-hour ceremony, Gates left for Tokyo and will be the first member of President Barack Obama's Cabinet to visit Japan since a center-left government came to power last month, ending a half-century of nearly unbroken conservative rule.

He will meet with new Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, who has announced that Japan would no longer carry out a refueling mission in the Indian Ocean in support of the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan. Hatoyama also has called for a review of the 2006 agreement that calls for closing the U.S. Marine Corps' Futenma Air Base on Okinawa and replacing it with a coastal site to be built by 2014.

Still on schedule is a missile launch interception test next week off Barking Sands, Kauai, involving the Japanese destroyer JS Myoko.

Later this week, Gates will visit South Korea and is expected to address the threat posed by North Korea's nuclear and ballistic missile programs. Attending the same talks with South Korean leaders will be Willard in his new role as commander of all U.S. Pacific forces.

“;The relative stability of the region belies the historic, economic and cultural rip currents that exist just below the visible surface,”; Gates said at the ceremony.

Gates noted that under Keating's leadership, the Pacific Command has:

» Delivered millions of pounds of humanitarian relief to victims of earthquakes, tsunamis and floods, including the recent disasters in the Philippines and Indonesia.

» Coordinated medical missions, including the use of the hospital ship USS Mercy, in which nearly 100,000 people were treated in six nations.

;[Preview]    Pacific Command Undergoes Change In Leadership

An official change of leadership for the United States Pacific Command took place replacing Admiral Timothy Keating with Admiral Robert Willard.

Watch ]


» Overseen 200 joint and multinational exercises.

» Supervised advances in military's ballistic missile defense capabilities, including the shooting down of an errant satellite by the Pearl Harbor-base cruiser USS Lake Erie.

Willard was operations and executive officer of the Navy Fighter Weapons School and aerial coordinator for the Tom Cruise 1986 movie “;Top Gun.”; He also had a cameo role as a Soviet pilot who was challenged in the air by Cruise's character.

He has also served as the commander of Fighter Squadron 51, the amphibious assault ship USS Tripoli, the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln, Carrier Group 5 and U.S. 7th Fleet in Japan.