New U.S. Northern Command boss Adm. Bill Gortney took his first moments on the job to express confidence in himself and his new team in Colorado Springs.
"Rest assured," he told an audience Friday that included top brass from the U.S., Canada and Mexico. "We will succeed."
Gortney, a Navy pilot, takes over the command as it deals with a growing threat from terror organizations and increased tensions with Russia. Northern Command and its sister unit, the bi-national North American Aerospace Defense Command, are charged with defending the continent from enemy attack and helping civil authorities deal with disaster.
In a Friday ceremony, he replaced Northern Command's longest-serving boss, Army Gen. Chuck Jacoby, who took over in 2011 and is retiring to civilian life in Colorado Springs.
A graduate of North Carolina's Elon University, Gortney joined the Navy in 1977 and piloted A-7 and F/A-18 strike aircraft. He has put in more than 5,000 flight hours and is credited with making 1,265 carrier landings.
He commanded air wings and led all Navy forces in the Middle East before he was picked for Northern Command.
Deputy Defense Secretary Bob Work told the audience of Gortney's meteoric rise late in his career.
"He climbed the ranks from commander to four-star in eight years," Work said. That progression took Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh 16 years.
Canadian Defense Minister Bob Nicholson advised Gortney to follow closely in Jacoby's footsteps.
"Jacoby's exemplary leadership is a legacy for you to continue," Nicholson said.
Jacoby came into the command at a time when relations with Canada were stretched by issues including the Keystone Pipeline proposal.
The general is credited with shoring up relations with Canada and building ties to Mexico.
American military relations with Mexico had been frigid for generations, but Jacoby forged partnerships over issues including battling drug cartels. Mexico's army and navy chiefs attended Friday's ceremony - a gesture unseen in the past.
Gortney will face two ongoing problems that occupied Jacoby: the federal budget squeeze and increasing tensions with Russia.
The Pentagon could face an extra $50 billion in cuts in 2016, and Jacoby and other leaders have warned that ongoing budget uncertainty threatens America's readiness.
Meanwhile, Russia has been flexing its muscles with tactics that haven't been seen in two decades - including bomber flights near America's coastlines.
Jacoby said the command has changed with the times and is agile enough to watch for terrorists and counter Russian aggression.
In his last moments in command, Jacoby told his troops that their dedication must match the threats America and its allies face.
"In this troubled world we must protect this land and its people. It's out sacred trust as warriors on watch," he said.
Contact Tom Roeder: 636-0240