Army Maj. Gen. Bryan Fenton on Friday became the first special operations officer to assume the job of deputy commander at U.S. Pacific Command on Oahu -- reflecting the growing role of forces such as Army Green Berets and Navy SEALs in influencing world events.
At the same time, Maj. Gen. Daniel Yoo became the first Marine Corps officer to take on the job that Fenton vacated as head of Special Operations Command Pacific.
"In PACOM's illustrious history, across 70 years, we've had 31 deputies, and there's never been a special operator. Bryan Fenton will be the first," Adm. Harry Harris, head of U.S. Pacific Command, said at the change-of-command ceremony. "I think this point not only proves what kind of outstanding leader Gen. Fenton is, but it also demonstrates the value that I place on the work by our SOCPAC warriors. And considering our global fight against the scourge to humanity known as ISIS, I think the time is right for this historic appointment."
Special Operations Command Pacific is co-located with the higher Pacific Command at Camp H.M. Smith and is one of six theater special operations commands.
About 320 military and civilian personnel are part of the special operations headquarters at Camp Smith. About 20 percent of the troops there are classified as actual special operators, the command said.
Special Operations Command Pacific also draws on forces including the 1st Battalion, 1st Special Forces Group, at Torii Station in Okinawa, Japan; Naval Special Warfare Unit 1 on Guam; and the 353rd Special Operations Group at Kadena Air Base in Japan.
Fenton, who will receive a third star in his new job with Pacific Command, said that "in the region, from east to west and north to south, SOCPAC teams are on point for PACOM (for U.S. Special Operations Command, headquartered in Florida) and the nation right now -- 17 locations more or less on any given day, almost 2,000 folks forward-deployed."
More than 350 people attended the command change ceremony outside Camp Smith.
Fenton, who fills a vacancy left by the retirement of Lt. Gen. Anthony Crutchfield a couple of months ago, is a former Special Forces detachment commander with experience in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Harris said that Fenton "got it right" with a change in Special Operations Command Pacific's mission command structure to synchronize special operators with international elements in the region "to tackle shared challenges."
Because of the nature of the special operations mission, little was revealed about recent successes. The command sometimes has more than 100 personnel in the Philippines, and Harris addressed a bit of the mission there during a recent Senate Armed Services Committee hearing.
"Most importantly, our special operations command folks are active in the southern Philippines to combat terrorism in conjunction with and in support of the armed forces of the Philippines," Harris told the committee. "So our guys are doing the advising and assisting but not the direct action. That's the responsibility of their own forces of the Philippines there, and I think that's working."
Yoo comes to Special Operations Command Pacific from a job most recently as director of operations with U.S. Special Operations Command at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Fla. U.S. Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command was activated in 2006 as a part of that larger special operations umbrella.
Yoo, a Korean-American officer, kept his comments brief in the tradition of a newly arriving commander but addressed troops under him, saying, "I make two promises to you. The first, I will not ask you to do anything that I have not done or would not do myself, and the second is, I will provide the leadership and support that you need in order to continue to be successful."
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