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WASHINGTON — Adm. Mike Mullen took over as Chief of Naval Operations on Friday in a change of command ceremony at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md.

Mullen’s promotion also marked the retirement of Adm. Vern Clark, who had served as chief since 2000. Navy officials said that’s the longest tenure of any CNO in the last 50 years.

Clark had served in the Navy for 37 years. The Iowa native has spent time as commander of the Carl Vinson Battle Group, directed the Joint Staff’s crisis team for operation Desert Storm, and chief of staff of the U.S. Atlantic Fleet.

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld spoke at the event and praised Clark as a “visionary” who transformed the Navy into a quicker, more flexible fighting force.

“The Navy that Adm. Clark inherited five years ago still reflected aspects of the Cold War culture,” he said. “Today the Navy is bringing credible firepower around the world, around the clock. … He leaves a stronger and more capable Navy to the benefit of America.”

Mullen previously served as commander of Joint Force Command Naples and commander of U.S. Naval Forces Europe. In that role, he oversaw not only coordination of U.S. forces but also had oversaw NATO mission in the Balkans, the Mediterranean and Iraq.

He also served as vice chief of naval operations in 2004, and previous commanded three ships — the USS Noxubee, USS Goldsborough, USS Yorktown - as well as the George Washington Battle Group. He was born in Los Angeles and graduated from the Naval Academy in 1968.

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