Air Force Maj. Gen. Kirk W. Smith, the new commander of U.S. Special Operations Command Europe.

Air Force Maj. Gen. Kirk W. Smith, the new commander of U.S. Special Operations Command Europe. (NATO)

STUTTGART, Germany — Maj. Gen. Kirk W. Smith took command Tuesday of special operations troops in Europe, where he will lead a team of Green Berets and SEALs working to bolster allied militaries along NATO’s eastern flank.

Smith replaces Maj. Gen. Mark Schwartz, who led Special Operations Command Europe for the past two years.

U.S. European Command boss Gen. Curtis M. Scaparrotti credited Schwartz with improving the integration of special operations troops with the elite units of partner nations as well as conventional forces. The readiness of EUCOM’s crisis response force also increased during Schwartz’s tenure, Scaparrotti said.

“You remain EUCOM’s first responders,” Scaparrotti said.

Schwartz will serve as the next deputy commander for the Joint Special Operations Command at Fort Bragg, N.C.

U.S. Special Operations Command chief Gen. Tony Thomas, who was on hand for the change-of-command ceremony, said that during the past two years special operators in Europe have adapted to a more challenging security environment.

“SOCEUR has evolved into a mature joint headquarters,” Thomas said.

In Smith, he said, SOCEUR has “a tremendously talented” leader who is “the right man to lead SOCEUR forward.”

Smith, who previously helped lead NATO special operations efforts in Afghanistan out of Bagram Air Field, comes to Germany at a time of transition for EUCOM as it contends with a resurgent Russia in the east and instability to the south. Twitter: @john_vandiver

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John covers U.S. military activities across Europe and Africa. Based in Stuttgart, Germany, he previously worked for newspapers in New Jersey, North Carolina and Maryland. He is a graduate of the University of Delaware.

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