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Vice Adm. Thomas Ishee, commander of U.S. 6th Fleet, speaks after assuming command at U.S. Naval Support Activity Naples, Italy, after relieving Vice Adm. Gene Black, right, Sept. 15, 2022. In the center is Adm. Stuart Munsch, commander of U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa.

Vice Adm. Thomas Ishee, commander of U.S. 6th Fleet, speaks after assuming command at U.S. Naval Support Activity Naples, Italy, after relieving Vice Adm. Gene Black, right, Sept. 15, 2022. In the center is Adm. Stuart Munsch, commander of U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa. (Kaila Peters/Navy)

NAPLES, Italy — U.S. 6th Fleet said goodbye to a commanding officer Thursday who was credited with leading the service through operations in Europe and Africa during Russia’s war on Ukraine, along with some unprecedented challenges over the last two years.

Vice Adm. Eugene Black III relinquished command of the fleet and Naval Striking and Support Forces NATO to Vice Adm. Thomas Ishee during a roughly hourlong ceremony at U.S. Naval Support Activity Naples.

Black, who assumed the command in July 2020, now will serve as deputy chief of naval operations for operations, plans and strategy in Washington, D.C., the Navy said.

Ishee most recently was director of global operations for U.S. Strategic Command at Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska.

Vice Adm. Gene Black, right, salutes Vice Adm. Thomas Ishee, incoming commander of U.S. 6th Fleet, at Naval Support Activity Naples, Italy, Sept. 15, 2022.

Vice Adm. Gene Black, right, salutes Vice Adm. Thomas Ishee, incoming commander of U.S. 6th Fleet, at Naval Support Activity Naples, Italy, Sept. 15, 2022. (Kaila Peters/U.S. Navy)

A Georgia native who was commissioned in 1988, he previously served as director of maritime operations for U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa, deputy commander of U.S. 6th Fleet and commander of Submarine Group 8, among other assignments.

Adm. Stuart Munsch, commander of U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa and commander of Allied Joint Force Command Naples, lauded Black for his moxie and acumen in deterring Russian aggression and defending NATO.

He coordinated a visible maritime presence in the 6th Fleet area of responsibility, including the Mediterranean and Black seas, and strengthened partnerships with African countries to counter Russian and Chinese activity on the continent, Munsch said.

Black also made history in transferring authority of some U.S. naval forces to NATO three times, as a way of “demonstrating our resolve to defend every inch of allied territory,” Munsch said.

“In summary, Gene made sure we were all in this together and that we all stood together against our adversaries,” Munsch said.

Black said he was proud of the ingenuity and dedication of commanders and sailors alike in tackling a multitude of challenges, such as assisting Afghanistan refugees, ensuring the well-being of personnel during the COVID-19 pandemic and deterring Russia from further aggression, as the Kremlin mounted the full-scale attack on Ukraine that began Feb. 24.

While he will miss task force commanders, international peers and others, it’s the service members who are hardest to leave, he said.

“Most of all I will miss the sailors and Marines standing the watch on our ships, submarines and operation centers … making sure if the orders come, the missiles fly, the guns shoot, the aircraft launch, the torpedoes run true and the Marines get ashore,” Black said.

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Alison Bath reports on the U.S. Navy, including U.S. 6th Fleet, in Europe and Africa. She has reported for a variety of publications in Montana, Nevada and Louisiana, and served as editor of newspapers in Louisiana, Oregon and Washington.

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