Pacific Fleet’s new commander quietly takes up post in Hawaii

Adm. Samuel J. Paparo became the 37th commander of U.S. Pacific Fleet during a ceremony at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, Wednesday, May 5, 2021.


By WYATT OLSON | STARS AND STRIPES Published: May 6, 2021

FORT SHAFTER, Hawaii — Adm. Samuel J. Paparo, a naval aviator who most recently commanded U.S. 5th Fleet and Naval Forces Central Command in Bahrain, took the helm of U.S. Pacific Fleet during a ceremony Wednesday at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii.

He replaces Adm. John Aquilino, who assumed leadership of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command on Friday.

Paparo is a graduate of the Navy Fighter Weapons School and has flown the F-14 Tomcat, F-15 Eagle and F/A-18 Hornet fighter jets, among others, the Navy said in a news release.

Among his operational command tours at sea were Strike Fighter Squadron 195 at Yokosuka Naval Base, Japan; command of Carrier Air Wing 7, which was embarked in the Dwight D. Eisenhower Strike Group; and command of Carrier Strike Group 10, according to his official biography.

As head of 5th Fleet, Paparo kept naval watch on Iran during a period of heightened tension over its nuclear program.

“We have achieved an uneasy deterrence,” Paparo, then a vice admiral, told reporters in Dubai in December, according to The Associated Press. “But I have found Iranian activity at sea to be cautious and circumspect and respectful, to not risk unnecessary miscalculation or escalation at sea.”

Paparo’s stance differed from that of his 5th Fleet predecessor, Vice Adm. James Malloy, who referred to Iran as “reckless and provocative,” according to AP.

From Hawaii, Paparo’s attention will turn to China, what Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin at his Senate confirmation hearing in January called the “pacing threat” to U.S. interests in the region.

Paparo said in the news release that he looked forward to leading a Navy fleet with an area of responsibility spanning 100 million square miles and 14 time zones, an expanse over which about 60% of the world’s trade passes.

“The U.S. remains committed to a free and open Indo-Pacific that can only be achieved by the teamwork of like-minded partners, all working with a common commitment to upholding international law and the rules-based, international order,” he said.

Leadership of the 7th Fleet, based in Yokosuka, Japan, is expected to transfer to Rear Adm. Karl O. Thomas, a former commander of Carrier Strike Group 5 and Task Force 70, also based in Japan. Thomas was nominated to the post in April and has yet to be confirmed.

Twitter: @WyattWOlson