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Maj. Gen. Jason Kamiya hands over the guidon to Gen. David McKiernan, symbolically giving up command of SETAF.

Maj. Gen. Jason Kamiya hands over the guidon to Gen. David McKiernan, symbolically giving up command of SETAF. (Kent Harris / S&S)

Maj. Gen. Jason Kamiya hands over the guidon to Gen. David McKiernan, symbolically giving up command of SETAF.

Maj. Gen. Jason Kamiya hands over the guidon to Gen. David McKiernan, symbolically giving up command of SETAF. (Kent Harris / S&S)

Maj. Gen. Frank Helmick, the new commander of the Southern European Task Force (Airborne), surveys the crowd before talking Monday at the change of command ceremony at Caserma Ederle in Vicenza, Italy.

Maj. Gen. Frank Helmick, the new commander of the Southern European Task Force (Airborne), surveys the crowd before talking Monday at the change of command ceremony at Caserma Ederle in Vicenza, Italy. (Kent Harris / S&S)

VICENZA, Italy — Gen. David McKiernan got the loudest ovation. Maj. Gen. Jason Kamiya received the longest applause. Maj. Gen Frank Helmick earned the most smiles.

The command of the Southern European Task Force (Airborne) switched hands Monday, with Helmick taking over for Kamiya while McKiernan, the U.S. Army Europe commander, looked on.

Many of the hundreds gathered at Caserma Ederle had stayed up late Sunday night celebrating Italy’s World Cup title in Germany, and McKiernan addressed them quickly after introducing the various dignitaries attending.

“But most importantly, I would like to congratulate our host country for a magnificent victory last night in Berlin,” he said to thunderous applause.

He then talked about Kamiya’s two-year stint in Vicenza, highlighting efforts to increase the command’s responsiveness with the community and negotiate a new base agreement with the Italians. He also commended Kamiya and the soldiers assembled for their work leading Combined Joint Task Force-76 in Afghanistan.

Kamiya also focused on the Afghan mission that had most of the base’s active-duty population serving downrange for just under half of his tenure. He said he would remember those killed under his command for the rest of his life.

“I know the effects of those losses extended to friends and families across the globe” he said.

He also said he’ll miss Vicenza and both its American and Italian populations.

“This has been the most rewarding experience of my professional life,” he said.

He’ll leave Vicenza to become commander of U.S. Joint Forces Command’s Joint Warfighting Center in Norfolk, Va., and director of joint training.

“A few, I have heard, are celebrating,” he said with half a smile.

But the sustained applause seemed to indicate otherwise.

Helmick, who served in Vicenza in the late 1980s, has just finished a stint as the senior military assistant to the deputy secretary of defense.

“He’s very excited to be out of the Pentagon, out of Washington and in Vicenza,” McKiernan joked.

Helmick had a few jokes of his own, but it was his attempt to translate a large part of his speech in Italian that earned him the most smiles.

He told McKiernan that the command, with its subordinate units set to undergo extensive transformation under his watch, will be ready when called upon.

“My commitment to you is to give 100 percent effort all the time,” he said. “Anywhere.”

“We can’t predict what tomorrow will bring.” he said. “But we can predict we’ll be ready.”

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Kent has filled numerous roles at Stars and Stripes including: copy editor, news editor, desk editor, reporter/photographer, web editor and overseas sports editor. Based at Aviano Air Base, Italy, he’s been TDY to countries such as Afghanistan Iraq, Kosovo and Bosnia. Born in California, he’s a 1988 graduate of Humboldt State University and has been a journalist for almost 38 years.
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