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Northcom Nominee Pledges to Focus on Relationships

Lisa Daniel - American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, April 15, 2010 - Navy Vice Adm. James "Sandy" Winnefeld Jr. told a Senate committee today that if confirmed to head U.S. Northern Command and the North American Aerospace Defense Command, he will work to build and maintain the command's relationships he called critical to the mission.

"I've observed that there are no other combatant commands where support for their partners [is] more important than these two," Winnefeld told the Senate Armed Services Committee. "My assignments have prepared me for this task."

Winnefeld, President Barack Obama's nominee to head the commands, is a Navy fighter pilot and former commander of the U.S. 6th Fleet, USS Cleveland and USS Enterprise. He led the Enterprise through combat operations supporting operations in Afghanistan immediately after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States. Currently, he serves as a senior member of the U.S. delegation to the U.N. Military Staff Committee and as the director of strategic plans and policy on the Joint Staff.

The admiral said he would work to maintain the commands' strong working relationships with other U.S. federal agencies, Canada and Mexico. He also singled out the U.S. reserve components.

"Our nation's Guard and reserve have never been better, and I look forward to a strong personal relationship with them," he said. The deputy commander of Northcom and NORAD, Army Lt. Gen. H Steven Blum, is the former chief of the National Guard Bureau.

Winnefeld said Northcom's continued support along the U.S.-Mexico border would be one of his first priorities if the Senate confirms him for the post.

"I've been watching very closely, and, if confirmed, I will really burrow into it," he said to Arizona Sen. John McCain, who had asked him about support for Mexico in battling drug cartels. "I would welcome accompanying you down there. I very much want to get down there myself and see what's going on."

Winnefeld said he is concerned that the cartels, which are accused of 6,500 murders in Mexico last year and 2,000 so far this year, are threatening the Mexican government and U.S. national security, and that he agrees with U.S. support to Mexican President Felipe Calderon's government, which he said has exhibited "extremely good leadership and courage."

"It's a tremendous sign of our partnership with Mexico," he added, "and I'm honored to have the ability to work with them."

Michigan Sen. Carl Levin, chairman of the committee, asked Winnefeld whether Obama's revamped missile defense plan in Europe would make the United States safer from a potential long-range missile strike from Iran.

"It would provide a much earlier warning of an attack from Iran, and more time for the United States to counter a threat," the admiral said. "That's the most important part."

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