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STUTTGART, Germany — Army Gen. Bantz J. “John” Craddock on Friday was approved by NATO to become its next Supreme Allied Commander, Europe. And, if his nomination is approved by the Senate, Craddock would succeed Marine Gen. James L. Jones Jr. as commander of the Stuttgart-based U.S. European Command, which oversees U.S. military activity in 92 nations in Europe, most of Africa and Israel.

Craddock currently heads the Miami-based U.S. Southern Command, which controls U.S. military activity in Central and South America, including at the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

When Jones became NATO commander in January 2003, he became the first Marine to hold the post. Eleven of the previous 13 NATO commanders had come from the Army. The other two, including Jones’ predecessor, Gen. Joseph W. Ralston, were from the Air Force.

Jones plans to retire sometime next year after 40 years of service, a Defense Department official said.

Pending confirmation, change of command ceremonies would happen sometime after the upcoming NATO summit this fall in Riga, Latvia, said the official, who spoke on condition on anonymity.

A Pentagon spokesman, Lt. Cmdr. Joe Carpenter, said he did not know when Craddock would take over.

“All are predicated on Senate approval of the president’s nominations,” Carpenter said.

Under Jones, the multination NATO force has taken on an increasing military role in Afghanistan. Jones also oversaw formation of the NATO Response Force, which is designed to be used in quick-response, special operations-type missions in the future.

The response force and other NATO forces were recently used to aid victims of last October’s earthquake in Pakistan.

Craddock’s replacement at SOUTHCOM is to be Navy Vice Adm. James Stavridis, who is currently Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s top military aide.

In a roundtable with journalists in May, Craddock said he favored a top-to-bottom review of Washington’s Cuba policy, including the prohibition on contact between the U.S. and Cuban militaries.

Craddock is no stranger to Europe. He led the Germany-based 1st Infantry Division from 2000 to 2002, when he was tapped for his third star and assignment to the influential — and traditionally career-building — post as Rumsfeld’s senior military assistant.

That position has groomed some of today’s top uniformed leaders, including Jones.

Before his 1st ID command posting, Craddock led the first peacekeeping task force into Kosovo in 1999 and later was responsible for training follow-up units as the head of 7th Army Training Command at Grafenwöhr, Germany.

An armor officer with more than 30 years’ experience, Craddock served as the assistant division commander in 1999 and commanded 1st ID troops in Kosovo under Task Force Falcon.

When The Big Red One rolled into Kosovo on the heels of ousted Serbian forces, Craddock set up his first command post by a bombed-out John Deere tractor in a wheat field outside Urosevac.

Stars and Stripes reporter Jeff Schogol contributed to this report.

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