WASHINGTON — Marine Gen. John F. Kelly assumed command of U.S. Southern Command at a ceremony on Monday in Miami.
Kelly, previously stationed at the Pentagon as Defense Secretary Leon Panetta’s senior military assistant, received his fourth star and took over the post from retiring Air Force Gen. Douglas Fraser.
Southern Command encompasses U.S. military operations in South and Central America, as well as the Caribbean. The command deals with a range of issues, including drug trafficking, narcoterrorism and humanitarian and disaster relief.
Speaking at the ceremony that was also attended by Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey, Panetta praised Fraser for SOUTHCOM’s leadership of U.S. military relief efforts after the 2010 Haiti earthquake. Fraser, the first Air Force general to run the command, also played a key role in rallying the U.S. government to fight the narcotics trade in Central America, Panetta said.
Panetta said the incoming commander, Kelly, has been “tested in life and tested in battle,” and that the former enlisted Marine who later became an officer “has always maintained the perspective of an infantryman.”
Kelly’s son, 2nd Lt. Robert M. Kelly, 29, was killed by a land mine in Afghanistan in 2010.
“More than anyone he has ensured that the daily reality of those serving on the front lines informs and guides every decision I have made,” Panetta said.