US, allies are in ‘amazingly dangerous times,’ says outgoing Navy commander in Japan
Stars and Stripes August 24, 2023
NAVAL AIR FACILITY ATSUGI, Japan — The outgoing commander of a Navy air facility near Tokyo warned Thursday that military deterrence in the western Pacific may not be working as the region enters “amazingly dangerous times.”
Navy Capt. Nicolas Leclerc, previously a member of the International Military Staff at NATO Headquarters in Belgium, took charge of NAF Atsugi from Capt. Manning Montagnet during a ceremony inside hangar 1430.
NAF Atsugi, a facility shared with the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force, is a critical logistics and maintenance hub and home to Fleet Air Western Pacific. Three Navy helicopter squadrons — two maritime strike squadrons and one sea combat — are stationed there.
Flanked by an MH-60 Seahawk helicopter and a Navy C-12 turboprop, Montagnet described the “amazingly dangerous times” faced by the U.S. and its allies due to “authoritarian and totalitarian regimes” in the region.
“Unfortunately, our deterrence efforts are arguably not working, and as a result, nothing less than our way of life as underwritten by the rules-based international order is directly under assault,” he told an audience of about 200.
Montagnet named North Korea, Russia and China as “three of the top five adversaries,” and noted their proximity to Japan.
“But here’s the thing: They have to go through us first. They have to take on our alliances, our friendships, our shared common values, our technology and know-how,” he said. “We’ve already begun our pivot. We’re training differently – more jointly, more comprehensively – in order to take on the task before us. This base, this installation, is an ever-increasing part of that effort.”
After the ceremony, he told Stars and Stripes that he envisions NAF Atsugi playing a “major supportive role” in deterring regional conflict.
Montagnet, who took command of the base in September 2020, will relocate to Navy Region Mid-Atlantic in Norfolk, Va., and the staff of the deputy chief of naval operations for operations, plans and strategies.
After the ceremony, Leclerc, of Westlake Village, Calif., said he hopes to build on his predecessor’s successes and to make NAF Atsugi “relevant” to the challenges Montagnet outlined in his speech.
“We have concerns with some of the neighbors near Japan,” he told Stars and Stripes. “Our goal is to represent the United States and provide the requirements in a supportive role, as mentioned, that are necessary for the U.S. to meet its goals.”
Leclerc graduated the U.S. Naval Academy in 2000 with a degree in computer science and has over 2,300 flight hours between MH-53E Sea Dragon and MH-60S Seahawk helicopters.
His past assignments include tours as the executive officer and commander of Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron 21 in San Diego and the commissioning air officer aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Tripoli.