MIAMI (June 4, 2011) -- Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton B. Carter (left), SOUTHCOM employee John Samson (center), and Marine Gen. John F. Kelly, commander of U.S. Southern Command (right) take part in a ceremonial cake cutting celebrating SOUTHCOM’s 50th Anniversary. (DoD photo by Sgt First Class Jason Philip, U.S. Southern Command)
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WASHINGTON, June 4, 2013 – Partnerships have been U.S. Southern Command’s cornerstone throughout its 50 years of existence and will continue to be vital to its mission, Southcom’s commander said today.
At an event at the command’s headquarters in Miami marking Southcom’s 50th anniversary, Marine Corps Gen. John F. Kelly noted that the command grew out of President John F. Kennedy’s vision of a Western Hemisphere that served as a “beacon of freedom, opportunity and equality.”
When he came up with that vision in 1963, many regarded it as a pipe dream, Kelly said. “Fifty years later, President Kennedy’s vision has all but come true,” Kelly said. “We live in a hemisphere of progress, a hemisphere of peace and prosperity, a hemisphere of enormous promise and potential, a hemisphere of strong and enduring partnerships.”
Kelly noted that Southcom has come a long way, changing missions, structure and location many times over the past 50 years. “One thing has remained constant: our focus on building partnerships both at home and abroad,” the general said.
The command began as the U.S. Caribbean Command, with the mission of defending the Panama Canal. In the 1960s, the mission expanded to support regional development and the spread of democracy. “During the 1980s, we refocused our mission on the conflicts in Central America,” Kelly said.
With the end of the Cold War, Southern Command transformed yet again into today’s command, which works with partners across the U.S. government and the region to address transnational security issues such as illicit trafficking, organized crime and terrorism, he said.
“In looking at our history, … it is clear that we are not the combatant command we once were,” Kelly said. “We are no longer a major front in a decades-long Cold War. We’re all thankful for that. And Latin America is no longer the region it once was. It is no longer the source of bloody civil wars and brutal dictatorships.”
As the region changed, so has Southcom. “As a personal note, I consider myself extremely blessed to be working in this part of the world – a part of the world that stands in stark contrast to places like Iraq and Afghanistan,” he said. “Instead of combat operations against a savage and elusive enemy, we get to engage with partners who want to make a positive difference in their own countries and abroad, who want to contribute to regional security, who want to partner with the United States.”
Kelly thanked all service members who have worked for and with Southern Command for the past 50 years. Working together, “we’ve helped bring Colombia back from the brink and helped Haiti recover from another catastrophe,” he said. “Thanks to the command’s current efforts we are strengthening partnerships across Central America, South America and the Caribbean.”
The partnerships developed over 50 years define the command, Kelly said. “Given the changing geopolitical landscapes and fiscal constraints facing the U.S. government, these partnerships are even more essential to U.S. national security than ever before for few very simple and important reasons,” he added. “At Southcom, we don’t partner because it makes for a nice bumper sticker, and we don’t partner because it is a polite way to relinquish global leadership.
“We partner because trust, confidence and mutual understanding cannot be surged when a crisis hits,” he continued. “We partner because the nature of today’s security threats cannot be countered by a single nation or a single federal agency. At Southcom, we partner because we know the only way we can secure a better way for the future for us is by securing a better future for everyone.”