THE stretch of sea encompassing the Arabian Gulf, Gulf of Oman, Red Sea and parts of the Indian Ocean is the “most complex” operational environment in the world, according to a top US official.
US Navy Central Command Commander General Joseph Votel said the region demanded “dependable leadership” and commended outgoing US Navy Fifth Fleet commander Vice Admiral John Aquilino as “the perfect fit” for the assignment.
Gen Votel was speaking at a change of command ceremony at the Naval Support Activity (NSA) Bahrain, Juffair, during which Vice Adm Aquilino relinquished command of the US Fifth Fleet to Vice Adm Scott Stearney.
Representing His Royal Highness Prime Minister Prince Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa, the traditional ceremony was attended by Shaikh Khalifa bin Rashid Al Khalifa and Shaikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Khalifa.
“Command of US Naval Forces Central Command (NAVCENT) is an extremely demanding duty assignment in what has become the most complex operating environment perhaps in the world,” said Gen Votel, who was the guest speaker at the ceremony.
“It’s a position that requires technical and tactical competence, diplomatic finesse and, above all, dependable leadership.
“Over the past eight months, Vice Adm Aquilino has shown himself the perfect fit for such an assignment, as he provided the purpose, direction and motivation you would expect from the high quality leader he is.”
Vice Adm Aquilino, who commanded the fleet since September 2017, has led more than 20,000 US and Coalition sailors, marines, coastguardsmen and civilians in combined maritime operations with partner nations to deter potential adversaries, maintain the free flow of commerce, preserve access to the global commons and respond to crises.
In a message read out at the ceremony, US Chief of Naval Operations Admiral John Richardson also extended his appreciation to Vice Adm Aquilino for his leadership.
“You led your team with unrivalled competence and character and ensured that an effective US posture would protect our interests and also strengthen our allies and partners,” he said.
Vice Adm Aquilino was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal by Gen Votel.
Vice Adm Stearney – a native of Chicago, Illinois and a graduate of the University of Notre Dame – has previously served as commander to the US Transportation Command’s Joint Enabling Capabilities Command, Strike Force Training Atlantic, Carrier Strike Group 4 and the Navy Warfare Development.
“I fully intend to carry on the many efforts for building partnerships, interoperability and co-operation between the US Navy and the many allied and partner nations from the Arabian Gulf, and beyond, who do so much to keep conflict out of the maritime and promote security and stability,” he said.
The US Fifth Fleet area of operations covers 20 countries and includes three critical choke points – the Strait of Hormuz, the Suez Canal and the Strait of Bab Al Mandeb at the southern tip of Yemen.