Secretary of Defense James Mattis, left, attends the change of command ceremony for U.S. Southern Command. Photo by Raymond Sarracino/U.S. Southern Command
Nov. 27 (UPI) -- Secretary of Defense James Mattis presided over the change of command ceremony for U.S. Southern Command, from Adm. Kurt W. Tidd to Adm. Craig S. Faller, saying the command has played a key role in fostering relationships in the Western Hemisphere.
At the ceremony, held Monday in Miami, where Southcom is based, Mattis talked about the work done by the command to help people in the region.
"There is more in this hemisphere that binds us together than drives us apart," the secretary said at the ceremony, which was attended by defense heads and senior officials from Central and South America and the Caribbean.
Mattis told the attendees that compared to turbulence in other parts of the world, the Western Hemisphere is an area of relative calm and prosperity.
The Southcom command covers all of South America, as well as Central America south of Mexico, Cuba, the Dominican Republic and the entire southern Caribbean, as well as waters adjacent to the continent and islands, including the Panama Canal.
"From Ottawa to Buenos Aires to Santiago we increasingly find an island of hemispheric opportunity and democratic stability amidst a churning and ever-changing global sea," Mattis said. "Our fortunate, forward-looking hemisphere has made strides not only democratically, but also economically and militarily."
Mattis pointed out that there were exceptions and said stable military relationships are sought with every nation in the region "except for those suffering under the unfortunate and irresponsible leadership in Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela with their anti-democratic, autocratic domination of their citizens who deserve better."
Mattis praised the mission of the Navy hospital ship USNS Comfort that has aided Venezuelan refugees fleeing the economic collapse of their country.
"Alongside 10 partner nations and six nongovernmental organizations, we are sending doctors, not bombers, to help limit human suffering," Mattis said. The USNS Comfort has been doing medical missions throughout South and Central America as part of Southcom's Enduring Promise initiative.
The secretary noted Tidd's 40 years of service and the work he did in his time at Southcom to foster better relationships throughout the hemisphere. "He recognized that people-to-people ties are the true bridge to effective military cooperation, buttressing our nation's regional diplomacy through his tireless efforts as he acted in concert with many of you who honor us with your presence here today," Mattis said.
The secretary praised Faller's 35-year career and welcomed him to his new command, saying Faller should use his previous experience with dealing with allies "from the Middle East to the Indo-Pacific to the Atlantic as you assume your duties as helmsman of U.S. military efforts to our south."