Top Gun Grad takes Reins at Gitmo

WASHINGTON -- The Pentagon Friday named a veteran U.S. Navy officer, an F-14 pilot who trained at the "Top Gun" school, to become the 13th commander of the prison camps at Guantanamo.

Rear Adm. Richard W. Butler, currently serving as deputy director of the Navy's Air Warfare Requirements division in Washington, D.C., will take over as the top officer of the prison camps sometime this summer as part of an ordinary one-year rotation, Navy Capt. Robert Durand said by email from Guantanamo.

The current commander, Navy Rear Adm. John W. Smith Jr., will become commandant of the Joint Forces Staff College at the National Defense University in Norfolk, Va.

The coming changes were among several admiral assignments announced by the Pentagon on Friday afternoon. Durand said they are unrelated to the ongoing protests at the prison camps in Cuba, where the military was counting 43 of the 166 captives as hunger strikers, 11 of them getting tube feedings from Navy medical teams.

Smith took over the post in June, and Butler succeeds him this summer, Durand said.

According to the Navy, Butler was commissioned as an officer in 1982, earned his wings in July 1985 and trained at the Naval Air Station Miramar on the F-14 Tomcat -- the aircraft featured in the film Top Gun with Tom Cruise.

Butler's official biography describes a three-decade career spent largely with Navy jobs and only one assignment in what is known in the military as a "joint command," a Pentagon division that draws forces from all four military services.

Before the Sept. 11 attacks, according to the biography, from November 1997 to October 1999, Butler worked at the strategy division of the United States European Command in Stuttgart, Germany. The commander of the prison camps at Guantanamo runs what is known as a Joint Task Force, currently a 1,700-member staff that is made up mostly of U.S. Army Military Police, both active-duty and mobilized reservists, but also draws forces from the Navy, Marines, Air Force and Coast Guard forces as well as civilian intelligence employees and contractors.

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