The U.S. Senate has confirmed President Barack Obama’s choice of a career Naval officer as the next commander of the Pentagon’s Southern Command overseeing military activities in Latin America and the Caribbean, Southcom announced Thursday, disclosing the new commander will take charge Jan. 14.
Vice Adm. Kurt W. Tidd will get his promotion to a fourth star in a private ceremony at the Southcom headquarters before becoming the 23rd commander of the outpost that moved to Doral from Panama in 1997. Obama nominated Tidd earlier this year.
Southcom currently runs anti-drug and counterterror operations in collaboration with other federal agencies, is poised to carry out humanitarian relief missions in the hemisphere and supervises prison operations at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, which currently houses 107 war-on-terror captives and a 2,100 member detention center staff of mostly soldiers.
Tidd replaces Marine Gen. John F. Kelly, 65, who enlisted during the Vietnam War, got a college degree and returned to service as an officer — making him a much-beloved commander among some enlisted troops who celebrate that crossover. During a forum at the Ronald Reagan Library in Simi Valley, California, in November, Kelly declared himself the oldest, longest continuous serving member of the U.S. armed forces.
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There was no official word on whether Secretary of Defense Ash Carter or fellow Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, would preside at the event. Their predecessors were at Kelly’s November 2012 installation ceremony.
The Guantánamo prison could have fewer detainees by the time Tidd takes charge. The New York Times reported Wednesday, and the Miami Herald confirmed Thursday, that Carter has approved the releases of 17 cleared captives to security arrangements in other countries. Carter notified Congress of the transfer deals in recent weeks, starting a 30-day advance notice clock.
None can leave before Jan. 5, according to those familiar with the transfer process, because Kelly recently adopted a new blackout policy that forbids detainees from leaving the prison during holiday weeks.
Tidd went before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Dec. 9. On a question from Chairman John McCain, the Republican senator, the admiral agreed to share his “personal views” with the committee, when asked, “even if those views differ from the administration in power.”
Tidd also described his military family to the committee: His father was a combat veteran of World War II, Korea and Vietnam. His brother retired recently after serving for three decades as a Navy chaplain. And his wife is a retired military physician who served in both the Army and the Navy and earned a bronze star in the 1991 Gulf War. They have two daughters, one in college and the other in high school.