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Vice Admiral Robert F. Willard.

Vice Admiral Robert F. Willard. (Courtesy of U.S. Navy)

YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE — Vice Adm. Robert Willard, commander of the Navy’s Seventh Fleet for the past two years, is heading to the Pentagon for his next assignment, advising on how the Navy should be structured, tested and resourced.

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld announced in a news release Friday that Willard’s new title would be director of Force Structure, Resources and Assessment.

Willard, a 1973 U.S. Naval Academy graduate originally from Los Angeles, will report to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

“It’s a good job,” Willard said in a phone interview from his home on Yokosuka Naval Base on Saturday.

Willard served in the late 1990s at the Pentagon, on the staff of the joint chiefs as deputy director for what was then called Operations and which, he said, dealt with large strategic issues.

His latest appointment must be confirmed by the U.S. Senate. Willard said he’s hopeful he’ll be confirmed between Congress’s Fourth of July break and its summer recess.

If so, he’ll be relieved shortly afterward by Rear Adm. Jonathan Greenert, who was deputy and chief of staff for the Pacific Fleet until he was confirmed recently to lead the Seventh Fleet. Greenert is to be promoted to vice admiral shortly before the as yet unscheduled change-of-command ceremony.

It is, coincidentally, the second time Greenert has relieved Willard. Willard also served as Pacific Fleet deputy and chief of staff before taking command of the Navy’s largest forward-deployed fleet in July 2002.

“Regretful to be going to the Pentagon — that would be too strong a word. Regretful to be leaving the Seventh Fleet — yes, it’s a wonderful job,” Willard said. “It’s a job any officer would enjoy embedding himself in for a long time. We think it’s a very important job, viewing the Navy’s responsibility in this part of the world. It’s an immensely fulfilling job, just because of the forces and the sailors, and the nature of the operations you’re involved in.”

In particular, Willard said, he relished working with the navies of other nations in the region and especially the Japanese Self-Defense Forces.

“The close linkage, I think, is what’s really maintained the peace for decades now,” Willard said.

Willard has enjoyed a stellar Naval career, doing everything from flying F-14s (and flying in the movie “Top Gun”) to commanding fighter squardrons and a variety of ships, including the USS Abraham Lincoln.

“I would tell you that every one of these jobs comes with a challenge. Every challenge has been fun for me,” Willard said. “I’ve loved being Seventh Fleet commander. I loved being an aircraft carrier commander and I loved flying the F-14. I’ve been very fortunate in what I’ve been able to do in the Navy.”

Working again at the Pentagon, Willard said, will provide him the opportunity to be connected with ongoing military transformation efforts.

“It’s an impressive place with impressive responsibilities,” he said.

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Nancy is an Italy-based reporter for Stars and Stripes who writes about military health, legal and social issues. An upstate New York native who served three years in the U.S. Army before graduating from the University of Arizona, she previously worked at The Anchorage Daily News and The Seattle Times. Over her nearly 40-year journalism career she’s won several regional and national awards for her stories and was part of a newsroom-wide team at the Anchorage Daily News that was awarded the 1989 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service.
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