USA — Northcom Nominee Pledges to Focus on Relationships

WASHINGTON — 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.”

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)