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Lt. Gen. Robert R. Blackman Jr., left, stands next to Brig. Gen. Joseph V. Medina during a “Relinquishment of Command Ceremony” on Thursday evening at the Camp Foster Theater. Blackman handed the reigns of Marine Corps Bases Japan to Medina and III Marine Expeditionary Force to Brig. Gen. Christian B. Cowdrey until the Senate confirms a successor.
Lt. Gen. Robert R. Blackman Jr., left, stands next to Brig. Gen. Joseph V. Medina during a “Relinquishment of Command Ceremony” on Thursday evening at the Camp Foster Theater. Blackman handed the reigns of Marine Corps Bases Japan to Medina and III Marine Expeditionary Force to Brig. Gen. Christian B. Cowdrey until the Senate confirms a successor. (Fred Zimmerman / S&S)

CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — The commanding general of the III Marine Expeditionary Force and Marine Corps Bases Japan turned over his duties to two on-island brigadier generals during a Thursday evening ceremony at the base theater here.

Lt. Gen. Robert R. Blackman Jr. handed command of III MEF to Brig. Gen. Christian B. Cowdrey, commanding general of the 3rd Marine Division, and the reigns of Marine Corps Bases Japan to Brig. Gen. Joseph V. Medina, who just took command of Marine Corps Base Camp S.D. Butler on July 8.

Blackman is leaving Okinawa after two years and will head to Norfolk, Va., where he will be the commander of Marine Corps Forces Atlantic, which includes five additional commands: Marine Corps Forces Europe; Marine Corps Forces South; Fleet Marine Force Atlantic; Fleet Marine Force Europe; and Marine Corps Bases Atlantic.

In mid-April, the Pentagon nominated Maj. Gen. Joseph F. Weber for promotion and to be Blackman’s successor. Weber was the commanding general of the 3rd Marine Division before taking over as the chief of staff for Multi-National Force-Iraq. The commands temporarily were given to Cowdrey and Medina; the Senate must confirm Blackman’s successor.

During the ceremony, Blackman told Cowdrey and Medina he has “complete confidence” in them to lead the units.

Blackman said both his personal and professional experiences while on Okinawa have been rewarding. The highlight, he said, was using the capability of the “powerful” III MEF machine, designed “to cause death and destruction,” instead to save lives and provide humanitarian relief in Thailand, Indonesia and Sri Lanka after the Dec. 26, 2004, tsunamis. The operation, he said, demonstrated the value and power of a forward-deployed expeditionary force.

Blackman said III MEF, being the Marine Corps’s only forward based expeditionary force, is a “powerful source of deterrence.” He added that both the United States and Japan make “sacrifices for the greater good … peace and stability in the Pacific.”

While he praised the unit’s capabilities, Blackman said the Marines and sailors on Okinawa have an obligation to be good and productive neighbors.

“I hope relations are stronger now than they were two years ago,” he said. “And I hope they grow stronger with my successor.”

Blackman closed by saying the Marines and sailors of III MEF “go into harm’s way … it’s the Marines and sailors who are III Marine Expeditionary Force. I’m proud to have led them for the last two years.”

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