‘Today is not the end’

Published 10:09 pm Thursday, August 4, 2011

U.S. Army Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, left, and U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Maj. Bryan Battaglia furl the U.S. Joint Forces Command flag at Thursday’s disestablishment ceremony at the North Suffolk facility.

The U.S. Joint Forces Command officially dismantled itself Thursday under the direction of Adm. Michael G. Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

The morning ceremony at the Suffolk facility also included remarks from Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, the disestablishing commander who took over at JFCOM in October 2010.

“Today marks a significant milestone,” Odierno said. “We no longer require a separate four-star command to oversee the joint warfighter.”

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The command was disestablished because of military cost-cutting measures. The move is anticipated to save about $450 million a year after elimination of excessive or redundant functions, Odierno said.

“We are not walking away from jointness,” he said. “We are adapting to a new reality.”

Mullen praised the Hampton Roads region for its support of the command and the military. It will continue to be a vital location for military installations because of its geographic and strategic benefits, he added.

“I want to thank the citizens of Hampton Roads for keeping faith,” Mullen said. “The people of Hampton Roads will continue to make a difference.”

Mullen also lauded the work of the command during the last 12 years, saying that the training it had provided to the armed forces had enabled the United States to effectively organize and lead the international response to the crisis in Libya that ignited in March.

In 1999, U.S. Atlantic Command was redesignated as U.S. Joint Forces Command to reflect its increased emphasis as an advocate for joint forces. After the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the command took the lead on military support to homeland security. In 2002, the command was refocused entirely upon training American forces to fight jointly with other military branches and other nations.

However, last August, rumors began swirling that then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates planned to shut down the command as part of a litany of cost-cutting measures. The plan soon was confirmed, and President Barack Obama approved the disestablishment in January over the objections of local, state and federal leaders.

But the work of those leaders was partially responsible for many of the former command’s functions and staff being retained in Hampton Roads.

“They are all dedicated patriots,” Odierno said of the concerned leaders.

About 1,900 staff remain in Hampton Roads, Odierno said Thursday, including about 1,000 in Suffolk.

Those remaining will work on functions such as joint training, concept development, doctrine development, experimentation and global force management.

The former command’s 21 buildings in Norfolk and Suffolk will be scaled back to four — three in Norfolk and one in Suffolk. The other buildings in the North Suffolk compound off College Drive likely will be taken over by other Department of Defense entities, Odierno said.

The former command also scaled back its facilities in Dahlgren and Nevada.

Mullen presented Odierno with the Defense Distinguished Service Medal during the ceremony for his work disestablishing the command. It is the highest joint award and the highest non-combat-related award in the Department of Defense.

Odierno is moving on to an appointment as the Chief of Staff of the Army.

“It’s been a pleasure for Linda and I to get to know the people of Hampton Roads,” Odierno said. “You are truly a special community.”