U.S. NAVAL SUPPORT ACTIVITY NAPLES, Italy –
Vice Adm. Thomas E. Ishee relieved Vice Adm. Gene Black III as commander, U.S. Sixth Fleet (SIXTHFLT) and commander, Naval Striking and Support Forces NATO (STRIKFORNATO) in a change of command ceremony held onboard U.S. Naval Support Activity Naples, Italy, Sept. 15, 2022.
Adm. Stuart Munsch, commander, U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa (NAVEUR-NAVAF) and commander, Allied Joint Forces Command (JFC) Naples, presided over the ceremony. Munsch outlined Black’s extensive accomplishments as SIXTHFLT commander and presented Black with the Distinguished Service Medal.
“Gene has sustained an unprecedented level of activity as the fleet commander for the Euro-Atlantic area, recalibrating our combined forces for dynamic operations, as the tenets of strategic competition dictate, to deter Russian aggression and stand ready to defend NATO,” said Munsch. “No one can look at the tenor you’ve set and argue that our adversaries haven’t factored your warfighting command of Sixth Fleet and STRIKFORNATO into their calculus.”
As SIXTHFLT commander and deputy commander of NAVEUR-NAVAF, Black provided regional, national and international leadership with credible Navy and NATO combat capabilities across the European and African areas of operations. He also spearheaded the establishment of a European Navy-Marine Corps task force (Task Force 61 Naval Amphibious Forces Europe/ 2d Marine Division (TF-61/2)). TF 61/2 is charged with command and control of high-end U.S. forces, including Amphibious Ready Groups (ARG) and Marine Expeditionary Units (MEU); Reconnaissance and Counter-Reconnaissance Marines; and intelligence and collection units able to integrate with theater allies and partners.
“The establishment of Task Force 61/2 has brought an enhanced rapid response capability to the Sixth Fleet area of operations and has displayed the strength and flexibility of the Navy-Marine Corps team,” said Brig. Gen. Andrew Priddy, commanding general of TF 61/2.
Additionally, Black’s leadership of STRIKFORNATO yielded the first transfer of authority (TOA) of a U.S. Carrier Strike Group to NATO since the Cold War, setting a new standard in NATO cohesion and cooperation. SIXTHFLT and STRIKFORNATO executed multiple phases of the Project Neptune series in 2021 and 2022, expanding TOA of allied carrier strike groups and of the USS Kearsarge (LHD 3) ARG and 22nd MEU, substantially increasing flexibility and cohesion throughout the alliance.
“Demonstrating and enhancing NATO’s high-end maritime warfare capabilities shows the world the true strength and teamwork of our alliance,” Black said of Neptune Shield, held in May 2022. “NATO’s capacity to conduct integrated operations in the maritime domain…validates more than seven decades of Alliance interoperability.”
Though he advanced U.S. Sixth Fleet and the NATO alliance’s collective warfighting advantage, Black also reflected on the importance of his interactions with his staffs of U.S. and allied servicemembers and civilians, highlighting the power and capability of his team.
“Most of all I will miss the Sailors and Marines standing the watch on our ships, submarines, and operations centers, preparing the flight deck for the next launch cycle, prepping to go over the beach in the toughest conditions in aircraft and amphibious vehicles, making sure that if the orders come, the missiles fly, the guns shoot, the aircraft launch, the torpedoes run true, and the Marines get ashore,” said Black. “I shall miss them most of all.”
Ishee, previously the Director of Global Operations for U.S. Strategic Command, spoke of his appreciation for the team he will lead, while outlining his vision and goals for the command.
“History is unfolding before our eyes, and our nation, the alliance, other allies and our partners around the world are relying on Sixth Fleet and STRIKFORNATO to maintain freedom of navigation, defend our nations and the alliance, and support our partners,” said Ishee. “We will continue to build these enduring relationships through training and exercises, common values, and shared experiences and vision.”
Ishee also thanked his predecessor for the warm welcome and smooth transition in assuming command of SIXTHFLT and STRIKFORNATO.
“Gene and Lori, thank you both very much for smoothing our return to Naples,” said Ishee. “You’ve gone above and beyond to make us feel welcome and to prepare us for the journey ahead.”
Likewise, Black offered his congratulations and well wishes to his successor.
“Vice Admiral Ishee, you are magnificently well prepared to command the Sixth Fleet and Striking and Support Forces NATO,” said Black. “Know I am your strongest supporter and will help you every way that I can.”
Ishee’s sea tours included assignments onboard submarines USS Narwhal (SSN 671) and USS Sea Devil (SSN 664); engineer officer onboard USS Tunny (SSN 682); and executive officer onboard USS La Jolla (SSN 701). He commanded USS Key West (SSN 722). While in command, the crew was awarded the Navy Unit Commendation, the U.S. Pacific Fleet Arleigh Burke Trophy and Battle Efficiency Award. He commanded Submarine Squadron 11, where he ensured the readiness of six fast attack submarines and oversaw the operations of three torpedo retrievers, a floating drydock and the Navy's submarine rescue systems. Also, he served as Director of Operations, U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa; Deputy Commander, U.S. Sixth Fleet; Commander, Submarine Group 8.
His tours ashore included assistant professor of Naval Science at the University of Texas at Austin; engineer and executive officer of Moored Training Ship MTS 626; executive assistant to the deputy commander, U.S. Pacific Fleet; director of intelligence and special operations for Commander, Submarine Force U.S. Pacific Fleet; director of operations for Commander, Submarine Group 7 and Task Force 54/74; senior advisor to the Secretary of Defense for U.S. Pacific Command Plans; executive assistant to the Chief of Naval Operations; deputy commander, Joint Functional Component Command-Global Strike, U.S. Strategic Command; Director, Undersea Warfare Division, Office of the Chief of Naval Operations (N97); and as Director of Global Operations, U.S. Strategic Command (J3).
Black has been selected for reappointment to the grade of vice admiral and assignment as deputy chief of naval operations for operations, plans, and strategy, N3/N5, Office of the Chief of Naval Operations, Washington, D.C.
“You leave us to take up duties as Deputy CNO for Operations, Plans and Strategy – a pivotal assignment from which the Navy will benefit given your deep knowledge of the global challenges facing our Fleet here in Europe as well as in the Pacific,” said Munsch.
U.S. Sixth Fleet is permanently assigned to NAVEUR-NAVAF, and employs maritime forces through the full spectrum of joint and naval operations.
For over 80 years, U.S. Naval Forces Europe-U.S. Naval Forces Africa (NAVEUR-NAVAF) has forged strategic relationships with allies and partners, leveraging a foundation of shared values to preserve security and stability.
Headquartered in Naples, Italy, NAVEUR-NAVAF operates U.S. naval forces in the U.S. European Command (USEUCOM) and U.S. Africa Command (USAFRICOM) areas of responsibility.