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Capt. Michael L. Blair, the outgoing commander of the U.S. Coast Guard Activities Far East, receives the Meritorious Service Medal from Rear Adm. Sally Brice-O’Hara, commander of the 14th Coast Guard District, during a change of command ceremony.

Capt. Michael L. Blair, the outgoing commander of the U.S. Coast Guard Activities Far East, receives the Meritorious Service Medal from Rear Adm. Sally Brice-O’Hara, commander of the 14th Coast Guard District, during a change of command ceremony. (Bryce S. Dubee / S&S)

Capt. Michael L. Blair, the outgoing commander of the U.S. Coast Guard Activities Far East, receives the Meritorious Service Medal from Rear Adm. Sally Brice-O’Hara, commander of the 14th Coast Guard District, during a change of command ceremony.

Capt. Michael L. Blair, the outgoing commander of the U.S. Coast Guard Activities Far East, receives the Meritorious Service Medal from Rear Adm. Sally Brice-O’Hara, commander of the 14th Coast Guard District, during a change of command ceremony. (Bryce S. Dubee / S&S)

Capt. Michael L. Blair (left), the outgoing commander of the U.S. Coast Guard Activities Far East, and Capt. Gerald M. Swanson, the new FEACT commander, render a salute during a change of command ceremony.

Capt. Michael L. Blair (left), the outgoing commander of the U.S. Coast Guard Activities Far East, and Capt. Gerald M. Swanson, the new FEACT commander, render a salute during a change of command ceremony. (Bryce S. Dubee / S&S)

YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — U.S. Coast Guard Capt. Gerald M. Swanson took command Friday of a region that includes 41 countries spanning 12 time zones and two oceans.

Yet the base of operations of his USCG Activities Far East is not a bustling port; it is at land-locked Yokota Air Base, where the closest body of water is the nearby Tama River and the closest U.S. coast is 1,500 miles away on Guam.

FEACT exists to inspect ships and ensure safe shipping bound for U.S. ports. At the ceremony, Rear Adm. Sally Brice-O’Hara, commander of the 14th Coast Guard District, spoke of the importance of their mission, which Swanson assumed from Capt. Michael L. Blair.

“Think about what you ate, put on or used this morning,” she said. “I’m sure that some of these things were transported by ship from outside of Japan.”

With more than 50 percent of the entire world’s shipping controlled from Asia, the top six busiest container ports, including Singapore, Hong Kong and Shanghai, are all in FEACT’s area of responsibility.

With such a high volume of traffic, inspecting ships bound for the United States can be a daunting task.

Cargo ships, cruise ships and even oil rigs and marine construction projects are inspected to make sure they meet safety and security standards, a process that can take “days, weeks and sometimes even months,” Brice-O’Hara said.

Some FEACT members may spend more than six months out of the year traveling to different ports, she said.

In addition, a team of international port security liaison officers works with other nations in security and anti-terrorism efforts.

As one of only two overseas U.S. Coast Guard commands, FEACT members also can be found investigating marine casualties.

“The sea is our life and our livelihood,” Blair said during the ceremony. “Having safe and secure shipping is key to economic prosperity.”

Blair’s next assignment will be in Washington, D.C., where he’ll serve as chief of operating and environmental standards.

Swanson said he is thrilled to be returning to Asia, having previously served in Japan, Singapore and Saipan.

He said in an interview after the ceremony that his people are his top priority.

“Professional development and the future of my people is number one,” he said. “If you can take care of that, then everything else falls into place.”


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