New Army special ops leader holds Hawaii dear to his heart
The Honolulu Star-Advertiser
HONOLULU — The Army two-star general who this summer will assume command of all special operations forces from the Middle East to Pakistan still likes to call Honolulu home.
Maj. Gen. Michael Nagata, 55, was born in Alexandria, Va., but told the Star-Advertiser his roots are in Pearl City, where his parents, William and Frances Nagata, were born.
"My extended family still lives there," said Nagata in a phone interview from his office at the Pentagon.
Nagata attended Pearl City Elementary School until his father, an Army colonel, was transferred to another post.
Although he left at age 7, Nagata said he still has fond memories of setting off fireworks on New Year's Eve, "hot malasadas and Huli Huli Chicken and Ewa Beach — all childhood memories."
Two uncles served with the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, the famed all-nisei Army unit, in World War II.
Nagata, who was promoted to major general in January 2012, is currently deputy director for special operations on the Joint Staff at the Pentagon.
As commander of Special Operations Command Central, Nagata will operate out of MacDill Air Force Base, Fla., home to the headquarters of the Central Command and U.S. Special Operations Command. The Central Command is responsible for U.S. military operations in or around 20 countries, including Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan.
In a Foreign Policy magazine article in January, retired Lt. Gen. Frank Kearney, who held the post Nagata is about to step into, called Nagata an "unassuming and affable leader with a lethal intellect" whose in-depth experience and connections make him a "perfect choice" for the job.
"Operating from the shadows in support of the fight against al-Qaida and affiliates' senior leaders, Gen. Nagata has developed inter-agency, country, team and U.S. embassy relationships throughout CENTCOM and the Horn of Africa," Kearney said.
Nagata views his next assignment as "a huge honor," adding, "I am very lucky to be selected."
Nagata is one of a few Japanese-Americans currently filling senior assignments in the service.
Lt. Gen. James Huggins, Army deputy chief of staff; Lt. Gen. John F. Campbell, who has been selected as the next head of Forces Command; and Lt. Gen. Thomas P. Bostick, commanding general of Army Corps of Engineers, all have Japanese parents. Huggins has island ties, having graduated from Leilehua High School.
Vice Adm. Harry Harris, a 1978 Naval Academy graduate and a combat aviator, was born in Japan and is now assistant to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Kauai-born Gen. Eric "Ric" Shinseki, now retired from the Army, served as chief of staff from 1999 to 2003 and is now secretary of Veterans Affairs.
Nagata said he doesn't see himself as a role model.
"It may be that I am seen that way by other people," he said. "I don't see myself that way. I just see myself as an officer of the U.S. military with a job to do, people to lead and problems to solve. I don't really consider myself any different than any of my colleagues."
Nagata estimates that at least half of his three decades in uniform has been on assignments in Asia and the Pacific, including South Korea, Thailand and the Philippines.
Nagata was commissioned as an infantry officer in 1982 after graduating from Georgia State University. He spent his first assignment as a weapons platoon officer with the 2nd Infantry Division in South Korea before joining the Special Forces in 1984.
As commander of 1st Battalion, 1st Special Warfare Training Group, at Fort Bragg, N.C., in 1999, he was responsible for the Special Forces Qualification Course. From 2000 to 2002 he served as a squadron commander in a Special Mission Unit.
After graduating from the National War College, he served in the Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence until 2005. He then assumed command of a special mission unit, and served there until 2008.
In 2009 Nagata served within the Intelligence Community as a deputy director for counterterrorism. From 2009 to 2011 he deployed to Islamabad, Pakistan, where he served as the deputy chief of the Office of the Defense Representative to Pakistan.
He and his wife, Barbara, have five children.