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.
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
“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.
Vice Adm. Gene Black, right, salutes Vice Adm. Thomas Ishee, commander, U.S. Sixth Fleet during the U.S. Sixth Fleet change of command ceremony held on Naval Support Activity Naples, Italy, Sept. 15, 2022
“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.”