Adm. Samuel J. Paparo on Wednesday assumed command of the storied U.S. Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor that was famously led by Adm. Chester Nimitz during the tumultuous days of World War II and now faces new threats from China.
In a low-key turnover prompted by command shuffling and confirmation scheduling, Paparo assumed duties administratively and without fanfare — and while in Manama, Bahrain.
Vice Adm. Brad Cooper relieved Paparo Wednesday as commander of U.S. Naval Forces Central Command, U.S. 5th Fleet and Combined Maritime Forces.
The U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations encompasses about 2.5 million square miles of water area and includes the Arabian Gulf, Gulf of Oman, Red Sea and parts of the Indian Ocean as well as 20 countries and three critical choke points: the Strait of Hormuz, the Suez Canal and the Strait of Bab al Mandeb at the southern tip of Yemen.
“Under Sam’s leadership here (he’s made a) measurable impact across the region. Whether it was providing maritime security, close-air support for our ground forces or strategic deterrence, Sam’s command has been proactive, vigilant and highly successful,” said Gen. Frank McKenzie, commander of U.S. Central Command, while presiding over the Middle East change of command.
In his new job in Hawaii, Paparo relieved Adm. John C. Aquilino, who became the 26th commander of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command at Camp H.M. Smith on Oahu.
Aquilino, like Paparo, came to U.S. Pacific Fleet from the Bahrain command, the Navy said.
A native of Morton, Pa., Paparo graduated from Villanova University and was commissioned in 1987. He is the son of a former enlisted Marine and the grandson of a World War II enlisted sailor.
Paparo is a graduate of the Air Command and Staff College, the Air War College, the Naval War College and the Joint and Combined Warfighting School. The “Topgun” fighter weapons school graduate has flown over 6,000 hours in the F-14, F-15 and F/A-18, with 1,100 carrier landings. He served on exchange duty with the U.S. Air Force flying the F-15C Eagle.
“I am honored and humbled to follow and serve in the footsteps and on the shoulders of giants in this critically important region accounting for 60 percent of world trade and 52 percent of the world’s population in 36 countries and an area spanning 14 time zones,” Paparo said in a release after taking command of U.S. Pacific Fleet. “The U.S. remains committed to a free and open Indo-Pacific that can only be achieved by the teamwork of like-minded partners, all working with a common commitment to upholding international law and the rules-based, international order.”
The Pentagon’s 2019 Indo-Pacific Strategy Report called the region the “single most consequential region for America’s future.”
Paparo is the 37th commander since the fleet’s Pearl Harbor headquarters was established in February of 1941, the Navy said.
Pacific Fleet is the world’s largest fleet command with an area of responsibility that encompasses 100 million square miles — nearly half the Earth’s surface from Antarctica to the Arctic Circle and from the West Coast of the United States into the Indian Ocean. The command includes approximately 200 ships and submarines, nearly 1,200 aircraft, and more than 130,000 sailors and civilians.