Nicholson: Navy has unlocked the full potential of its mission in the region
Huffman takes helm at Navy command on Guam
By Frank Whitman
Rear Adm. Gregory Huffman assumed command of Joint Region Marinas during a change of command ceremony on Andersen Air Force Base on June 21.
Huffman took command from Rear Adm. Benjamin Nicholson, who had been JRM commander since June 2021. His next assignment is in Norfolk, Virginia where he is to serve as commander of Expeditionary Strike Group Two.
“Joint Region Marianas has just begun to unlock the full potential of its mission in the region,” Nicholson said. "We are hardening our infrastructure; we are securing our borders; we are protecting our people."
Guest speaker at the ceremony was Rear Adm. Blake Converse, deputy commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet. Converse began his address with an “assessment of the Pacific as I see it today.”
He briefly recounted the Navy’s history in the region and acknowledged parallels between pre-World War II tensions and those of the current regional situation.
“But I think we can also appreciate the forethought of those Navy leaders who preceded us, who insisted that we posture our Navy forward,” he said.
Daily operations are expected to build experience and trust, and to strengthen and develop alliances.
Current defense policy in the region is “integrated deterrence, with the understanding that the best way to deter war is clearly to demonstrate the capability and the resolve to fight and win if called upon in conflict,” he said.
Nicholson is well-suited to the job, Converse said. “He understands the power of history as a foundation for our presence and posture in the Western Pacific,” he said.
“He understands the power of capable, clear-eyed leadership in setting the course for our joint forces to deter aggression, to protect our international rules-based order in this region and across the area and to defend our nation and our allies and our partners.”
In his remarks during the ceremony, Nicholson spoke of JRM's accomplishments during the past two years.
“This has been an unbelievably dynamic, diverse and developmental two years,” he said. “The importance of this region on the global stage cannot be overstated. It Is no secret that there are other countries seeking to exploit divisions and weaknesses for their advantage and ultimately disrupt international laws and norms.”
The U.S. is also establishing defensive measures elsewhere in the region including the Northern Mariana Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia and Palau. “The formal establishment of the first new defense site in Palau with tactical and multi-mission over-the-horizon radar is monumental,” he said.
Nicholson pointed out the apparent success of an initiative to bring healthcare benefits to veterans living in the freely associated states. He took the cause on when he met FAS veterans and was told about the lack of health benefits. “We can send a recruiter to the freely associated states, but we can’t send medicine; we can’t send a nurse,” he said. “This makes no sense to me.”
Though veterans’ affairs are not in his purview, he took it on. He met with local partners and top VA officials, and lobbied key members of Congress. “I was extremely happy to see that legislation has recently been drafted to significantly increase the health care benefits of the veterans of the freely associated states,” he said. While the legislation has not passed, he said it seems to be making progress.
In addition to his position as commander of JRM, Huffman is now commander of U.S. Naval Forces Marianas, senior military official of U.S. Pacific Command in Guam, the CNMI, the FSM and Palau, and commander of Task Force West, according to JRM.
Huffman is a 1989 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy and holds a master’s degree in history from the University of Maryland and a master’s in aviation systems from the University of Tennessee.
Prior to his current position, Huffman served as commander of Carrier Strike Group 12 in Norfolk.
Huffman’s prior shore duty assignments include military aide to the president and chief of staff for the commander of Naval Air Forces, Atlantic.
His shore duty flying assignments include developmental test pilot for F/A-18 electronic war systems and initial testing of the F/A-18E/F “Super Hornet” in China Lake, California.
Huffman’s sea duty flying assignments include command of VFA-27 in Atsugi, Japan, deployments aboard USS Saratoga, USS Enterprise (on which he was its final operational executive officer), USS George Washington, USS Kitty Hawk and USS Gerald R. Ford. He commanded USS Green Bay and USS John C. Stennis and flew combat missions over Bosnia, Iraq and Afghanistan.
He said in the few days he had been on Guam, he was impressed with the cooperative efforts at typhoon recovery. “While some elements of the recovery have been complicated, it also provided me with a unique opportunity to see our team and the people of Guam at their best,” he said.
“In the time I have been here, I have seen every service represented in streets and on the beaches building roofs, moving cargo and clearing debris. I have watched the same people affected by the storm wake up each day without power and go to work across the island to repair and recover.”
About 150 active-duty service members, Department of Defense civilian employees, members of the civilian community, business leaders and dignitaries from the consular offices of Japan, the Republic of Korea, the Philippines and the Federated States of Micronesia attended the ceremony.
Gov. Lourdes Leon Guerrero presented Nicholson with the Ancient Order of the Chamorri award and members of the 37th Guam Legislature presented him with a resolution recognizing him for his service to Guam during his tour on the island.
The ceremony was held in the 22,000-square-foot bay of the U.S. Marine Corps hangar in the north ramp area of Andersen.
It was the first large event held in the facility, according to a Marine Corps spokesperson. The hangar was completed in 2019 and is one of a number of facilities built to accommodate the relocation of U.S. Marines from Okinawa to Guam.