Defense Secretary Gates Praises Outgoing Coast Guard Commandant

WASHINGTON – Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates today praised outgoing Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Thad W. Allen for his close working relationship with the military, and said he looks forward to a similar relationship with Allen’s successor, Adm. Robert J. Papp Jr.

Gates spoke at the change-of-command ceremony at Fort Lesley J. McNair. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano presided over the ceremony, as her department is the Coast Guard’s parent organization.

In Allen’s four years as commandant, he oversaw the Coast Guard’s largest organizational changes since World War II, Gates said. Those changes included “an overdue modernization and recapitalization program that will better equip the Coast Guard to meet 21st-century challenges,” Gates said in prepared remarks.

Allen’s tenure has seen a growing level of cooperation between the Coast Guard and the Defense Department, Gates noted. A maritime strategy issued in 2007 was a product of all three sea services, signed by the chiefs of the Coast Guard, Marine Corps and Navy, he said.

In addition, Allen was the main advocate for the Maritime Operational Threat Response protocol, an interagency framework to deal with seaborne threats ranging from weapons of mass destruction to pollution, Gates said.

As national incident commander for the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, Allen has had the lead role in public briefings regarding Coast Guard and military roles in the cleanup following British Petroleum’s April 20 drilling disaster off the Louisiana coast. Allen said he will remain in that role for some time.

Although the Coast Guard is a component of Homeland Security, it maintains close ties with the military services. During his tenure as commandant, Allen said, the Coast Guard enhanced its ties to the Defense Department and held unprecedented talks with the Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, Army Corps of Engineers, and the National Guard Bureau.

“My overarching goal as commandant was for the Coast Guard to become more change-centric,” Allen said. “Nowhere has this been more evident than in our responses to the devastating earthquake in Haiti and in our leading role to the ongoing oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.”

Gates said Allen’s record of leadership and accomplishment includes his work as Coast Guard chief of staff when “he took charge and brought new energy, focus and coordination to rescue and recovery efforts after Hurricane Katrina” in 2005.

Gates outlined the Coast Guard’s partnership missions with the military under Allen’s command, including patrolling the Arabian Gulf, protecting oil infrastructure, training the new Iraqi coast guard, counter-drug operations in the Caribbean, and humanitarian aid to Georgia following the Russian invasion there in 2008.

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