The bi-national North American Aerospace Defense Command and U.S. Northern Command got a leader Thursday with one trait unseen in past soldiers of the top job.
While Air Force Gen. Terrence J. O'Shaughnessy wears an American uniform, underneath he's Canadian.
It's not a north-of-the-border plot. O'Shaughnessy moved to the United States as a child and attended the Air Force Academy. But his Canadian roots are a first for the command that bonds America and Canada in defense of the continent.
And he has other traits that are already a hit in Ottawa, Canadian Defense Minister Harjit Sajjan said at the ceremony that installed O'Shaughnessy. The guy who will defend Canada and the United States from incoming bombs and missiles played goalie on the Falcons hockey squad in college.
"I can assure you will be well-received by your Canadian colleagues," Sajjan said.
O'Shaughnessy replaced another first-of-her-kind commander in Gen. Lori Robinson, the first woman to hold the post.
Robinson is retiring after more than 36 years in uniform.
She said her time in Colorado Springs brought big challenges and massive rewards.
"It has been an amazing time," she said.
O'Shaughnessy, a veteran F-16 fighter pilot with more than 3,000 hours in the cockpit, came to Colorado Springs after leading Air Force efforts across the Pacific and Asia.
"No mission is more sacred than defending the homeland," he said.
The Peterson Air Force Base event for the changeover drew military leaders from across the continent, including U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis and Marine Gen. Joesph Dunford. They were joined by the heads of the Mexican Army and Navy along with a Canadian contingent led by Sajjan.
Mattis said the gathering showed the determination of the neighboring nations to thwart threats to North America.
"Across Mexico, Canada and the U.S., those half-billion people together form North America's powerhouse island of democratic stability and economic vitality in a time of global promise, but also peril," Mattis told a crowd of military brass and local dignitaries who packed a Peterson hangar for the ceremony.
The event itself showed that nations that have argued over immigration and trade have maintained and even strengthened military bonds under the Trump administration.
On the same morning when President Donald Trump took to cable news to lobby again for a wall across America's southern border, Mattis was especially complimentary of Mexico, saying the militaries of the nations now have the closest relationship they have shared "since World War II."
"We welcome Mexico's increasing leadership in our region's stability and beyond," Mattis said.
Mexico's presence illustrates a key Mattis initiative to deepen ties to nations that haven't been traditional military partners with America, boosting collective security through military-to-military diplomacy
Canada's Sajjan said his nation was pushing for a deeper military partnership with America, and pledged to modernize Canadian military radar systems across the continent's northern tier to help in the defense mission.
Mattis said evolving threats from rivals like Russia and China, along with ongoing concerns from nations like North Korea, mean that military leaders in Colorado Springs must be ready to shift strategies and assume new roles.
"We will jointly continue to modernize NORAD," he said.
O'Shaughnessy highlighted the complexity involved in defending the continent these days.
"Our homeland is no longer a sanctuary," he said. "Instead we are facing an accelerating pace of change."
His ties to two North American nations, he said, will help him in his task.
"With my Canadian heritage, leading the defense of these nations is indeed a special honor," he said.
Contact Tom Roeder: 636-0240