From left: Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; Army Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, commander, U.S. Joint Forces Command; and Marine Corps Sgt. Maj. Bryan Battaglia, the command's Command Sergeant Major; salute during the playing of the national anthem at the command's disestablishment ceremony Aug. 4 in Suffolk, Va. (Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Chad J. McNeeley / De)
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In a harbinger of leaner times ahead for defense spending, one of the 10 major U.S. commands was eliminated Thursday with the disestablishment of the high-tech U.S. Joint Forces Command during a ceremony in sun-splashed Suffolk, Va.
A year in the making, the official shutdown itself didn't take long. There was a brief recitation of the command's accomplishments, followed by Army Gen. Ray Odierno, who was charged with closing the command as he took the job 10 months ago, rolling up the command flag to a solemn musical accompaniment. Short remarks followed.
Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates recommended shuttering the command on the 2010 advice of a Pentagon advisory board, which suggested that eliminating contractor jobs and redundant functions could save millions of dollars. President Obama signed off on Gates' recommendation in January.
About 6,000 government civilians, contractors and service members worked at Joint Forces Command, most of them in the surrounding Hampton Roads region. By Tuesday, Odierno said, that number was down to 31.
All told, about 1,900 of the roughly 3,800 total command jobs in Hampton Roads were eliminated, providing an annual savings of $400 million, according to spokeswoman Kathleen Jabs.
Most of the command's functions — coordinating joint training, tasking the services for forces required overseas and developing and joint concept development and experimentation, for instance — are being retained and have been transferred to the Joint Staff and other combatant commands. About 80 percent of its personnel were reassigned elsewhere.
Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, tried to lighten the mood as he adjusted the microphones on the podium at the start his remarks.
"This is probably set for Odierno," the tall officer joked about the taller four-star.
But turning serious, he acknowledged the popular and political angst generated in Hampton Roads and around the state over the closure decision.
"I know everyone here today has likely been impacted in some way by JFCOM's transition," Mullen said. "And as tough as this may feel right now, I believe that the event we mark is indeed in the nation's best interests."
Military and civilian workers who have been assigned to the command, Mullen said, "can take genuine pride in JFCOM's essential role in transforming and guiding the separate branches of our military into a truly joint force."
"Our young men and women in theater now are not only operating, but thinking, jointly," he said.
Gates cited such progress when he announced the closure plan, saying that the military "has largely embraced jointness as a matter of culture and practice."
Odierno, who is about to assume the job as the Army's service chief, praised the workforce he headed following his tour as the senior U.S. commander in Iraq.
"Your professionalism, expertise and plain hard work resulted not only in monumental joint warfighting gains, but allowed us to successfully navigate this period of transition by preserving key joint processes, which will ensure continued growth and continued capabilities that are most needed in our joint force," Odierno said.
"We no longer require a separate four-star command to oversee joint warfighting," he said. "We have progressed far enough, and inculcated jointness deeply enough, to realize that efficiency while simultaneously refining our efforts.
"But we're not walking away from jointness," Odierno said. "Rather, we are adapting to a new reality. … Today's ceremony, therefore, marks the new beginning — as we continually strive for greater effectiveness and efficiency in the joint force."
In attendance were the first three former Joint Forces Command commanders: Adm. Hal Gehman, Army Gen. William Kernan and Adm. Edmund Giambastiani. Prior to being stood up in 1999, the command was known as U.S. Atlantic Command, which was formed in 1947.
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