Gen. Gregory S. Martin.

Gen. Gregory S. Martin. ()

For the first time in its history, an Air Force general will head the U.S. military’s largest geographic command, officials said Friday.

Pending Senate confirmation, Gen. Gregory S. Martin, currently head of the Air Force Materiel Command at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio, will become only the second non-Navy officer to command the United States Pacific Command since its 1947 inception.

Martin would replace Adm. Thomas F. Fargo, who served as commander of Pacific Fleet before assuming command of PACOM in 2002.

Officially, PACOM called the appointment of an Air Force general “noteworthy,” but not remarkable.

“U.S. Pacific Command is like all joint commands,” said Lt. Col. Jay Steuck, PACOM chief of media operations. “It can be commanded by qualified officers from any service.”

But privately, officers throughout the Pacific region expressed surprise at the announcement.

One high-ranking officer in South Korea speculated whether Pacific region force realignment plans had anything to do with the appointment, noting Martin’s recent leadership of the materiels command. If big changes to the number and location of bases are indeed coming, the officer said, what better person to have in charge than a logistician?

Martin, who began his career as a combat pilot, also has commanded several fighter wings and served as the Air Force director of operational requirements and principal deputy to the assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition.

Capt. John Haynes, chief of public affairs at Misawa Air Base, Japan, was thrilled to hear Martin would be taking PACOM’s helm. Haynes served tours at Aviano, Italy, and Incirlik, Turkey, when Martin was commander of U.S. Air Forces in Europe from March 2000 to August 2003. Haynes met Martin at Incirlik when the general visited for Thanksgiving lunch with the troops.

“I was extremely impressed with his leadership and the policies he enacted while he was the USAFE commander,” Haynes said, emphasizing he wasn’t speaking for the command.

Other regional command officials declined to comment.

“We aren’t going to comment on a topic like that. We are not in a position to comment because we don’t question policy, and that’s the decision of the president of the United States and the secretary of defense,” said Jon Nylander, Commander, U.S. Naval Forces Japan spokesman, when asked the significance of the announcement.

Air Force officials in South Korea and Japan referred questions, variously, to PACOM or Pacific Air Forces, or simply read from the official PACOM statement regarding Martin’s appointment.

Nonetheless, since 1947 all but eight days of PACOM’s history have been under the command of a Navy admiral. Of the 22 previous commanders, the lone exception was Army Lt. Gen. Harold T. Fields, who served as commander from July 11-19, 1994.

Though not tagged as an interim commander, Fields held the position for only one week after Adm. Charles R. Larson was transferred to head the U.S. Naval Academy in the wake of the Tailhook scandal.

PACOM officials pointed out the shift in command to an Air Force officer isn’t unprecedented. Most major combat commands historically have been commanded by one service, but in the past few years, that trend has changed as the military moves toward more joint activities.

Southern Command had 45 successive Army leaders until Marine Corps Gen. Charles E. Wilhelm took the reins in 1997, followed by fellow Marine Gen. Peter Pace in 2000. Command returned to the Army with current commander Gen. James T. Hill.

Since 1952, all but two European Command commanders were Army. The two exceptions were Air Force generals.

“Gen. Martin is a superb officer. I know him personally from previous service together in the Pentagon. He has a tremendous record and a wonderful reputation,” Fargo was quoted as saying in a PACOM news release, which also noted Fargo will retire after relinquishing command.

Martin is in his 34th year of service, officials said. He graduated from the U.S. Air Force Academy in 1970 and was credited with 161 combat missions in Southeast Asia, according to his official biography. Before his stint at the Air Force Materiel Command, Martin was commander of U.S. Air Forces Europe and Allied Air Forces Northern Europe.

As a pilot, Martin has logged more than 4,500 flying hours in aircraft ranging from the F-4 to the F-15 and the C-20.

— Greg Tyler and Jennifer Svan contributed to this report.

PACOM commanders since January 1947

Adm. John H. Towers - Jan. 1, 1947 - Feb. 28, 1947Adm. Louis E. Denfeld - Feb. 28, 1947 - Dec. 3, 1947Adm. DeWitt C. Ramsey - Jan. 12, 1948 - April 30, 1949Adm. Arthur W. Radford - April 30, 1949 - July 10, 1953Adm. Felix B. Stump - July 10, 1953 - July 31, 1958Adm. Harry D. Felt - July 31, 1958 - June 30, 1964Adm. Ulysses S. Grant Sharp - June 30, 1964 - July 31, 1968Adm. John S. McCain Jr. - July 31, 1968 - Sept. 1, 1972Adm. Noel A.M. Gayler - Sept. 1, 1972 - Aug. 30, 1976Adm. Maurice F. Weisner - Aug. 30, 1976 - Oct. 31, 1979Adm. Robert L.J. Long - Oct. 31, 1979 - July 1, 1983Adm. William J. Crowe Jr. - July 1, 1983 - Sept. 18, 1985Adm. Ronald J. Hays - Sept. 18, 1985 - Sept. 30, 1988Adm. Huntington Hardisty - Sept. 30, 1988 - March 1, 1991Adm. Charles R. Larson - March 1, 1991 - July 11, 1994Army Lt. Gen. Harold T. Fields - July 11, 1994 - July 19, 1994Adm. Richard C. Macke - July 19, 1994 - Jan. 31, 1996Adm. Joseph W. Prueher - Jan. 31, 1996 - Feb. 20, 1999Adm. Dennis C. Blair - Feb. 20, 1999 - May 2, 2002Adm. Thomas B. Fargo - May 2, 2002 - present

—Source: PACOM

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