Commander touts US strength during 3rd Marine Division handover
CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — The outgoing commander of the nation’s only forward-deployed Marine division had a message for America’s adversaries during a change-of-command ceremony Friday on Okinawa: “Take caution.”
Maj. Gen. Richard Simcock II, who passed 3rd Marine Division leadership to Maj. Gen. Craig Timberlake under overcast skies on the Camp Courtney parade grounds, said the division’s quality gives him confidence in America and the U.S. military’s future, despite the growing militaries of potential adversaries within the region.
“I do not believe that our power is on the downhill slide,” Simcock, who’s heading to Marine Forces North, told Stars and Stripes on Thursday. “I do not believe that the best days of the United States are behind us. I speak so confidently about that because of the 10,000 young men and women that I’ve commanded for the last year and a half. That’s what makes me optimistic.”
Simcock spent his time in command working on improving amphibious operations with the Navy, fostering regional partnerships, introducing new combat systems and increasing material and supply readiness.
At the military’s current capability level, Simcock said adversaries would be foolish to think the U.S. is weak or vulnerable.
“Every time that our nation is misjudged by our adversaries, we’re seen as weak or distracted, and they think, ‘We can take them down,’ they get hurt,” he said. “We’re still a superpower, no question about it. That gets lost sometimes.”
During the ceremony, Lt. Gen. Lawrence Nicholson, III Marine Expeditionary Force commander, recounted how Simcock relieved him in Fallujah during heavy fighting in the Iraq War.
The first day out, while Nicholson was showing Simcock around, they were ambushed and the Marines were forced to fight their way out.
“I know how he responds under fire,” said Nicholson, who added that he’s been impressed with Simcock’s abilities ever since.
“The 3rd Marine Division is a better unit than when you took it, no doubt about that,” Nicholson told Simcock at the ceremony. “These are big shoes to fill, but if there’s anyone who can come in and take this division to the next level, it’s [Timberlake].”
Simcock thanked the Marines under his command for their service and said if he could have handpicked anyone in the Marine Corps to take over the division, it would have been Timberlake, a Kentucky native who served as 3rd Marine Expeditionary Brigade commander on Okinawa until 2013. He recently held a leadership role with the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan.
During remarks Friday, Timberlake told his Marines that he would release guidance soon. He said it would be focused on “warfighting” and “winning” in the region.
Timberlake takes over at a time of heightened geopolitical tension in the Asia-Pacific region.
President-elect Donald Trump has recently traded barbs with China over Taiwan’s future; meanwhile, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has moved his country closer to China, calling American envoys “spies” and threatening to ban U.S. troops.
Recently, Cambodia canceled an annual exercise earlier this month that some say was tied to Chinese influence.
Meanwhile, the U.S. military is continuing to place many of its most advanced ships and aircraft in the region. The new F-35B Lightning II stealth fighter arrived in Japan just this week.
“I think the region’s evolving,” Simcock told Stars and Stripes on Thursday. “In relatively a short period of time, I’ve seen a lot changes. Our challenge, from [Maj. Gen. Timberlake] and I, is can I burst feed everything I’ve experienced in a year and a half, put it where he understands it, so there’s no drop off, and it continues?”
Simcock said leaving the division is bittersweet, and that he hopes to return to the Pacific someday.
“Is my work done? No, it never stops,” Simcock said. “It didn’t stop from Maj. Gen. Clardy, my predecessor; it didn’t stop with me. It is truly a continuum that we just pass along and we keep it going. But for all of us, it’s just ensuring the defense of American interests out here in this very critical region.”