Change of Command: Commandant of the Coast Guard

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano and Admirals Allen and Papp listen to the National Anthem during the Coast Guard change of Command. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Daniel Bender)

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano and Admirals Allen and Papp listen to the National Anthem during the Coast Guard change of Command. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Daniel Bender)

In a time-honored change of command ceremony presided over by Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, Robert J. Papp assumed command as the 24th Commandant of the Coast Guard. Admiral Papp’s relief of Admiral Thad Allen marks the conclusion of the transition to a new leadership team for the Coast Guard over the next four years.

“I am honored to serve as the 24th Commandant of the Coast Guard,” said Admiral Papp. “When I assumed the duties from Admiral Thad Allen at noon today, it concluded a series of key rotations and marked the setting of a new watch to lead our service.”

Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano presides as Adm. Robert J. Papp Jr., relieves Adm. Thad W. Allen as Coast Guard Commandant during the Coast Guard. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Kip Wadlow)

Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano presides as Adm. Robert J. Papp Jr., relieves Adm. Thad W. Allen as Coast Guard Commandant during the Coast Guard. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Kip Wadlow)

Papp is expected to be a much more traditional type of commandant than the “unlikely admiral” who preceded him in Admiral Allen, but his respect for his predecessor was clearly on display.

“Admiral Allen is a true public servant and visionary, I thank him for his service,” said Papp.

Papp assumes command at a challenging time for the Coast Guard. The service continues to respond to the worst environmental disaster in decades as oil continues to pour into the Gulf of Mexico. The Coast Guard is also facing potential cuts to its budget and workforce in the years ahead.

As for Admiral Allen, in a somewhat unprecedented move, Napolitano has asked him to stay on as the National Incident Commander responding to the Gulf oil spill. The combination of Allen’s credibility in the region following Hurricane Katrina and his familiarity with the response he has overseen for the past month likely proved deciding factors in the decision. Admiral Allen made it clear, however, that the presence of two four-star Coast Guard admirals should not raise questions as to the leadership of the Coast Guard.

“I have the utmost confidence in Admiral Papp’s and Admiral Brice-O’Hara‘s ability to lead the Coast Guard during a period of tremendous changes, challenges and opportunities,” said Admiral Allen. “The new leadership team is well equipped to continue to elevate the value of the U.S. Coast Guard to America and the global maritime community.”

The change-of-watch ceremony is a time-honored event preserved by rich heritage of naval tradition. It is a formal custom that is designed to strengthen the respect of authority, which is vital to any military organization. The climax of the ceremony is reached when both members read their orders, face one another, salute and transfer responsibility of the command. This also provides the entire command with the knowledge that the member directed by proper authority is taking command and is an opportunity to witness this transfer of responsibility.

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