STUTTGART, Germany -- NATO Allied Land Command, the alliance's new headquarters in charge of land force planning, officially activated Friday at its new home in Izmir, Turkey.
"Turkey has been essential to the effectiveness and viability of NATO since it joined the Alliance because of its geography and its very large military contribution," U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Frederick "Ben" Hodges, the new commander of the headquarters, said during the ceremony in Izmir. His comments were made available by the headquarters public affairs office.
"It is not an accident that NATO decided to put Land Command here," Hodges said, according to the remarks provided. "Rather, it represents recognition by all 28 Nations of Turkey's strategic importance to NATO."
The headquarters was established in connection with NATO's transformation, aimed at trimming a bloated and costly command structure.
Adm. James Stavridis, commander of U.S. European Command and NATO's supreme allied commander, was on hand during the ceremony.
"Izmir has been the junction of cultures for centuries," Stavridis said, according to the public affairs office. "Ultimately, NATO is a bridge connecting 28 countries in the alliance. Therefore, I believe the Land Command being in Izmir has a symbolic meaning."
The roughly 350-person headquarters in Izmir assumes the responsibilities of Force Command Heidelberg in Germany, and Force Command Madrid in Spain, which are being deactivated as part of NATO's transformation. A similar merger of Air Command headquarters formerly in Turkey with one in Germany is taking place at Ramstein Air Base.
The Allied Land Command is responsible for ensuring readiness of NATO forces, conducting land operations and synchronizing land force command and control.
Hodges said in an interview with Stars and Stripes last week that a major focus for his headquarters will be to ensure that the tactical lessons learned during a decade of fighting in Afghanistan aren't lost as the war winds down.
He reiterated that during Friday's activation ceremony, also citing earlier conflicts as key to bolstering the know-how of troops in the field.
"These last 17 years of operations in Bosnia, Kosovo, Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya have created a level of experience and interoperability within NATO that is higher than it has ever been in its history," Hodges, according to the comments provided to Stars and Stripes.
Going forward, Hodges said his command intends to capitalize on the experiences of noncommissioned officers in particular.
"Indeed, a 25- or 30-year-old sergeant today is much more technically savvy than are any of the officers of my generation," Hodges said. "We must take advantage of that experience and competence by increasing the level of authority we give them, empowering them to do more."