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Grady assumes command of Sixth Fleet in Naples

Outgoing 6th Fleet commander Vice Adm. James Foggo salutes incoming leader Vice Adm. Christopher W. Grady at a change of command ceremony Friday at the fleet's headquarters in Naples, Italy. Looking on is Adm. Michelle Howard, the Navy's top officer in Europe.

PHOTO U.S. NAVY

By JOHN VANDIVER | STARS AND STRIPES Published: October 28, 2016

Vice Adm. Christopher W. Grady assumed command of the Naples, Italy-based U.S. 6th Fleet on Friday, taking over at a time when the Mediterranean Sea has emerged as a security flashpoint for allies facing unrest in nearby Libya, increased migrant flows and the prospect of Russian warships becoming a more common presence in those waters.

Grady, who replaced Vice Adm. James Foggo III, will head the operational arm of U.S. Naval Forces Europe and Africa headed by Adm. Michelle Howard.

“Perhaps nowhere else in the world today are the efforts of the U.S. Navy more apparent than here,” said Howard, who officiated the change of command in Naples. “The combined area of responsibility, when you look at it, stretches from the North Pole to the Antarctic.”

Besides leading Sixth Fleet, Grady will serve as deputy commander to U.S. Naval Forces Europe; deputy commander, U.S. Naval Forces Africa as well as commander of the European Joint Force Maritime Component.

Grady, who previously served as commander of the Naval Surface Force Atlantic Fleet in Norfolk, Va., said he will focus on building relationships with partners and allies to confront threats.

“In all of this we will be vigilant, we will be resilient, and we will continue to build enduring relationships,” he said, according to transcripts of the remarks at the ceremony.

In Europe, the Navy’s mission has taken on added significance during the past two years amid an upheaval in the region’s security environment. The service also has played a key role in the U.S. Africa Command-led bombing campaign now underway in Libya, which aims to help local forces root out Islamic State militants entrenched in part of the country.

The Navy has expanded its presence in Rota, Spain, with dedicated warships positioned there as part of a missile defense plan in Europe. The service alsois in charge at a land-based missile defense site in Romania. Those moves, which the U.S. says are aimed against missiles launched from places such as Iran and not Russia, have nonetheless angered Moscow.

U.S. military officials have expressed concern about increased Russian submarine activities and close encounters in the Black Sea between U.S. ships, and Russian aircraft have been a repeated source of tension. Such incidents have become more common as the U.S. military has enhanced its overall presence near Russia’s borders, in places such as the Baltics.

Now, a Russian navy battle group, including the country’s only aircraft carrier, is steaming into the Mediterranean Sea. NATO officials have expressed concern about the possibility those assets could be used to intensify Russia’s military campaign in Syria.

“We face mounting security challenges across the AOR from the Black Sea and Eastern Med, to the recent attempted attack of U.S. forces from the Yemeni coast, and strikes on ISIS in Northern Africa to Gulf of Guinea piracy concerns,” Howard said. “I’m thankful that our naval forces in the 6th Fleet have been and are in good hands.”

Foggo, who will serve as the next director of Navy Staff at the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations in Washington, said in his outgoing remarks that allies must remain united and vigilant.

“We are a defensive alliance and we are not looking for a fight, but if you threaten us, we will defend our collective interest,” he said. The future is all about allies, partners and coalitions.”

vandiver.john@stripes.com