Adm. Harry B. Harris Jr.’s promotion to commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet is being hailed as a milestone for Japanese Americans.

The change-of-command ceremony, in which Harris relieved Adm. Cecil D. Haney, was held Oct. 16 on Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, with the USS Arizona and Battleship Missouri memorials as a backdrop.

Adm. Harry B. Harris Jr.
Adm. Harry B. Harris Jr.

Harris was born in Yokosuka, Kanagawa Prefecture in 1956, the son of a U.S. Navy chief petty officer and his wife from Kobe. The family relocated to the U.S. and he grew up in Tennessee and Florida.

According to the Japanese American Veterans Association, Harris said the 1951 movie “Go For Broke” made him proud of his Japanese heritage, and the courage and patriotism of Japanese Americans who served in the 100th Battalion, 442nd Regimental Combat Team and the Military Intelligence Service during World War II have inspired him in his professional career.

As the keynote speaker last year at Go For Broke National Education Center’s “Evening of Aloha,” Harris talked about his upbringing and the values he learned from his mother, such as giri (duty or obligation).

Among those attending the ceremony was Floyd Mori, president/CEO of the Asian Pacific American Institute for Congressional Studies and former national president of the Japanese American Citizens League.

“Over 70 years ago the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on their quest to control the Pacific. Today a great Japanese American will command the largest Navy in the world, whose command will cover 60 percent of the Earth’s surface from India to the West Coast,” Mori said in a Facebook post. “Congratulations to Adm. Harry Harris! We are very proud to be counted among his friends attending today’s ceremony.”

The U.S.-Japan Council also offered congratulations, noting that Harris spoke at the USJC Annual Conference as part of a panel on Japanese American “Models of Excellence.”

At the ceremony, Adm. Haney said, “The only thing that makes my departure a little easier is knowing that my good friend and Naval Academy classmate Adm. Harry Harris is my replacement. He has had an exceptional career filled with challenging assignments that have more than prepared him to command the Pacific Fleet. He knows the Indo-Asia-Pacific region and fully understands its complexities.”

Haney spoke of those complexities, and how the Navy’s historic role in the region will continue to promote security, stability, prosperity and peace. “Our nation today looks to the future as we rebalance to the Indo-Asia-Pacific,” said Haney, who assumed command in January 2012 near the beginning of the rebalance initiative. “The world watches to see how economically and politically this rebalance will work. We’ve faced austere economic cycles and political turmoil in the past, but we’ve maintained a continuous, robust and capable naval presence in the Pacific since World War II.”

Adm. Samuel Locklear III, commander of U.S. Pacific Command (PACOM), commended Haney on his leadership during challenging times. “Your strategic vision has set the stage for a new level of engagement, dialogue and consistence inside the PACOM area of responsibility,” said Locklear.

After reading orders and assuming command, Harris thanked the men and women of the Pacific Fleet, saying: “What you do on a daily basis is of fundamental importance to our nation’s defense — I’m proud to be your commander.”

As the former assistant to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Harris said he would continue the Pacific Fleet’s commitment to the rebalance “with our brothers and sisters” in the Air Force, Army, Marine Corps, Special Operations and Coast Guard.  “Our president and secretary of defense are clear. As a nation, we will rebalance to the Pacific and we will work closely with our allies and partners in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region.”

Harris is the 34th naval officer to command the Pacific Fleet since it was established in February 1941 with headquarters at Pearl Harbor. He graduated from the Naval Academy in 1978, is a MIT Seminar 21 fellow, and has attended Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service, and Oxford University for East Asia security.

As commander of Pacific Fleet, Harris is responsible for 100 million square miles “from Hollywood to Bollywood, from Antarctica to the Arctic Circle.” Covering more than half the Earth’s surface, the Indo-Asia-Pacific region is vital to U.S. economic and security interests. The Pacific Fleet maintains combat-ready and forward-deployed naval forces that consist of approximately 200 ships/submarines, 1,100 aircraft and 140,000 sailors and civilians.

“Whether called to fight and win or to protect the peace, Pacific Fleet operates alongside allies, partners and multilateral organizations to ensure a stable and secure Indo-Asia-Pacific where all nations can prosper,” the Navy said in a statement.

Adm. Cecil D. Haney passes through the side boys after being relieved by Adm. Harry B. Harris Jr., commander of U.S. Pacific Fleet, during a change-of-command ceremony on the Pearl Harbor waterfront. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Johans Chavarro)
Adm. Cecil D. Haney passes through the side boys after being relieved by Adm. Harry B. Harris Jr., commander of U.S. Pacific Fleet, during a change-of-command ceremony on the Pearl Harbor waterfront. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Johans Chavarro)

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