BRUSSELS (AP) — The NATO alliance this week is getting a new supreme commander, a former top-ranking U.S. military officer in Korea hailed Tuesday by Defense Secretary Ash Carter as a proven warrior-diplomat and "a soldiers' general."
U.S. Army Gen. Curtis M. Scaparrotti was installed as head of U.S. European Command (EUCOM) at Stuttgart, Germany, and will become NATO's supreme allied commander Europe following a separate ceremony Wednesday at alliance military headquarters in southern Belgium.
Scaparrotti, 60, will become the 18th U.S. officer to hold the post since Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower became the first NATO supreme commander in 1951.
The commander, by tradition an American general or admiral, is responsible for the overall direction and conduct of NATO's global military operations. The 28-nation alliance is now confronted by simultaneous security challenges ranging from a resurgent Russia to armed Islamic extremism and a migrant crisis in the Mediterranean.
"Today our way of life is at a pivotal moment, as we are encountering numerous threats and strategic challenges," Scaparrotti said in brief remarks after assuming command at EUCOM.
Carter, who attended the change-of-command ceremony along with U.S. Joint Chiefs Chairman Marine Corps Gen. Joseph Dunford, said Scaparrotti, a West Point graduate and former head of U.S. forces in Korea, had been as "easy pick" as overall American military leader for Europe. While serving in Korea, Carter said Scaparrotti proved his ability to work with allies and lead a coalition.
In both new posts, the Logan, Ohio, native is assuming command from U.S. Air Force Gen. Philip M. Breedlove, who helped lead the NATO alliance during the most sweeping revamp of its collective defense capabilities since the Cold War.
Carter praised Breedlove's three-year tenure as supreme commander, saying that under his leadership, "NATO forces have been writing a new playbook" to cope with today's threats and challenges.