MIAMI (Nov. 19, 2012) – Marine Corps Gen. John F. Kelly speaks after assuming command of U.S. Southern Command during a change of command ceremony. Kelly takes over for Air Force Gen. Douglas M. Fraser, who is retiring after 37 years of active service. (Photo by Arthur McQueen, US Army Garrison-Miami Public Affairs)
Click to watch entire SOUTHCOM Change of Command. (via Defense Video and Imagery Distribution System)
MIAMI (Nov. 19, 2012) – Marine Corps Gen. John F. Kelly assumed command of U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) as he relieved Air Force Gen. Douglas M. Fraser during a change of command ceremony today.
Kelly comes from the Pentagon where he served as the senior military advisor to the Secretary of Defense since March 2011. As SOUTHCOM’s commander, he is now responsible for overseeing all U.S. military operations in Latin America and Caribbean.
“[Kelly] is, I believe, the true embodiment of the citizen warrior -- compassionate, caring and tough. He has educated and he has inspired all who have had the privilege of serving alongside of him,” said Panetta. “He’s always been at my side as trusted confidant and a trusted friend, and more than anyone, he has ensured that the daily reality of those serving on the front lines informs and guides every decision that I’ve made.
“There are few that you’d like to share a foxhole with and John Kelly is one of those,” said Panetta.
Kelly is SOUTHCOM’s 22nd commander since the command was designated in 1963. He takes over following Fraser’s nearly three-and-a-half-year stint at SOUTHCOM.
“I know that the senior-most civilians and military in the Pentagon -- and I’d extend that to the State Department, the interagency -- all had tremendous respect and confidence for what was being done here in Miami,” said Kelly.
“I will take [Fraser’s] program and do the best I can to continue the partnership growth with our friends throughout the region, and of course, take care of SOUTHCOM, its families, and very much look forward to getting involved in the community here in Miami.”
Fraser is retiring after 37 years as an Air Force officer, pilot and military leader. While commander of SOUTHCOM, Fraser led Operation Unified Response, the Defense Department’s support to U.S. and international relief efforts in Haiti following the devastating earthquake of Jan. 12, 2010, and the largest disaster response mission in modern U.S. military history.
"Your dedication to the men and women of this command is inspirational and is a reflection of a lifetime of service,” Dempsey said to Fraser. “You left an indelible mark on so many communities here in Miami and around the world.”
"Our focus and the key ingredient to our work over many years -- starting well before my tour but continuing through it -- has been our focus on building partnerships. Partnerships is the critical formula for ensuring the security of the Western Hemisphere," said Fraser.
Kelly is the third Marine to hold the top post at SOUTHCOM, following Gen. Peter Pace (2000-2001), and Gen. Charles Wilhelm (1997 to 2000).
In the past decade, Kelly’s served combat tours in Iraq, including as commander of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, based at Camp Pendleton, Calif., during a year-long mission in Iraq’s al Anbar and Ninewa provinces in 2008. He later served as commander of Marine Forces Reserve and Marine Forces North from 2009 to 2011.
Kelly enlisted in the Marines in 1970 and was commissioned as a Marine officer in 1976 after graduating from the University of Massachusetts. He has attended the Marine Corps Command and Staff College and the School for Advanced Warfare at Quantico, Va., and is a 1995 graduate of the National War College in Washington D.C.
Prior to the change of command, Panetta officially promoted Kelly to a four-star general during a ceremony at the SOUTHCOM headquarters.
SOUTHCOM is one of the nation’s six geographically-focused unified commands with responsibility for U.S. military operations in the Caribbean, Central America and South America.
The SOUTHCOM headquarters is comprised of a staff of about 1,200 military members, civilians and contractors, including representatives of five partner nations and more than a dozen federal agencies.
“SOUTHCOM has helped galvanize U.S. and Western Hemisphere support for enhanced engagement in this region. We’ve made significant progress in partnering with the militaries of Central American nations, and they are now taking greater responsibility for their own security," said Panetta.