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Admirals help launch Dahlgren unit
Admirals officially launch Navy Air and Missile Defense Command in ceremony at Dahlgren

 Adm. Robert F. Willard, commander of the Pacific Fleet, spoke to the crowd at Naval Support Facility Dahlgren yesterday morning.
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Date published: 5/1/2009


When three admirals gather at the Naval Support Facility Dahlgren, it's for something important to the Navy.

That was the case yesterday with the official launch of the newest unit at the King George County base--the Navy Air and Missile Defense Command.

Adm. Robert F. Willard, commander of the Pacific Fleet, deemed it important enough to fly in from Hawaii as keynote speaker for the hour-long ceremony.

Likewise, Vice Adm. Samuel J. Locklear III, commander of the 3rd Fleet, traveled from San Diego. Also at Willard's side was Rear Adm. Brad Hicks, director of the Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense program at Dahlgren, who will also head up the new command.

"It's fitting that a site once known as U.S. Navy Proving Grounds has been selected for this center of excellence in air and missile defense," Willard said.

He acknowledged a "strong personal interest" in the new command, and others like it.

The Strike Warfare Center in Fallon, Nev., and Undersea Warfare Center in San Diego, he said, illustrate that "when we co-locate the Navy's best minds in a principal warfare area, our Navy is well-served."

Willard said the Navy Air and Missile Defense Command will address new threats on the world stage, such as the recent missile test by North Korea.

"No one needs to explain to you sitting here how critical air and missile defense are to our nation."

He noted that Dahlgren "has long been known for its excellence in advancing the Aegis combat system, and you've played a crucial role in developing credible ballistic missile defense into our surface ships for many years."

Willard said the aim is threefold: serving the country's overall missile defense, regional defense for allies, and troops in the field. "You've already been the go-to organization for the military's most trying cases," he said, noting the shoot-down of an errant spy satellite in February 2008. Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense was instrumental in that intercept.

Willard praised Hicks and the Aegis group for their efforts and for quickly laying the groundwork and establishing the new command in only three months.

It will detect, track, intercept and destroy ballistic missiles, and eventually encompass the Navy's entire integrated air and missile defense.

It will require 75 military and civilian employees combined, with an annual payroll of about $10 million.

Rusty Dennen: 540/374-5431
Email: rdennen@freelancestar.com

Adm. Robert F. Willard is commander of the Pacific Fleet. A former vice chief of naval operations, he is a Los Angeles native and 1973 Naval Academy graduate.

An F-14 aviator, he served in a variety of fighter squadrons and commanded the Screaming Eagles of Fighter Squadron 51, the amphibious flagship Tripoli and the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln.

Willard has twice served in the Joint Staff, was deputy and chief of staff of the Pacific Fleet, commanded Carrier Group 5 aboard the USS Kitty Hawk, and the 7th Fleet in Yokosuka, Japan.