CAMP ZAMA, Japan (July 17, 2019) -- Members of the U.S. Army Garrison Japan community welcomed Col. Thomas Matelski and his family and bid farewell to Col. Phillip Gage and his family during a change of command ceremony here July 17.

Dr. Christine Altendorf, director of Installation Management Command Pacific, was the ceremony's senior presiding official, and she noted several of Gage's accomplishments during the two years he spent in command.

"Despite having to command one of the most geographically dispersed garrisons within our region, you were able to establish and maintain key relationships with a number of diverse communities across Japan," Altendorf said. "Your commitment to cooperation with the host nation here helped to ensure the Japan-U.S. alliance remained strong."

Gage strengthened bonds between the Directorate of Emergency Services, Japanese emergency services and the Army's sister-service Department of Defense law enforcement organizations across central Japan, Altendorf said.

In addition, the garrison conducted and participated in downed-aircraft and active-shooter drills and frequently took part in chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear training with the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force, Altendorf said.

Gage also showed a commitment to workforce development and maintaining an open dialogue with the cities of Zama and Sagamihara and the JGSDF, Altendorf said.

Under Gage's leadership, the Camp Zama fire department earned the title of best large fire department in the Pacific Region in 2018 and 2019, and last year, the Army Substance Abuse Program won a DOD-level red ribbon community drug awareness award, Altendorf said.

"This is truly a testament to your ability to bring out the best in your team and encourage them to strive to not just meet the standard, but, as your garrison motto states, to 'Set the standard,'" Altendorf said.

Altendorf also thanked Gage's wife, Jamie, for her numerous contributions to Camp Zama.

"Your leadership and collaboration have helped to advance the goals of this garrison and the Japan-U.S. alliance," she said.

Gage is headed to San Antonio, Texas, his home state, to be the G3 at U.S. Army North at Joint Base San Antonio.

Gage said garrison command, particularly at USAG Japan, is a challenge like none other he has faced in the Army, but the garrison team, "simply the best," helped him rise to the occasion.

"Our operations are dispersed over 15 disparate locations, about 1,500 miles tip to tip, and it's a pretty complex operation, probably the most complex garrison in the Army," Gage said. "However, this team has never failed."

Gage charged garrison employees to continue "to never confuse what you do with what you're for." "Your purpose is clear: Ensure readiness, and take care of our community, always," he said.

Gage thanked the City of Zama and City of Sagamihara officials who helped him during his command, as well as officials from the JGSDF, the U.S. Army and the DOD sister services and friends from the Japanese American Society.

Gage also welcomed Matelski and his family to Japan.

"You're going to love it. It's a great assignment," he said. "Good luck to you as you take this team to even better achievements in the future."

Matelski, most recently director of the Commander's Action Group for U.S. Indo-Pacific Command in Hawaii, thanked Gage for setting him up for success and wished him well in Texas.

Matelski, from Racine, Wisconsin, has five children with his spouse Amy, and their three youngest, Timothy, 17; Zachary, 15; and Joshua, 13, will be with them at Camp Zama.

In an interview after the ceremony, Matelski praised the professionalism of the ceremony and said taking command of the garrison is "absolutely humbling."

"I've been preparing [to take command of USAG Japan]," Matelski said. "I've been studying. I've been listening and there's just such a wide scope … but we have such a tremendous team in place that I know that together we're going to do some awesome things."

Matelski said he was honored to see many representatives from U.S. Army Japan and the local communities, including Mikio Endo, mayor of Zama City, and Kentaro Motomura, mayor of Sagamihara City.

"I want to continue to strengthen [those relationships] and find new ways to build new avenues for friendship and participation and mutual support because our relationship with the community is so vital to what we do," Matelski said.

As a leader, Matelski said he plans to continue the garrison's high standard of excellence and one of his priorities is to grow the garrison as a team.

"We came from Hawaii, and there they have this whole thing about 'ohana,' that everything is about the family," Matelski said. "We have a garrison family that has the highest standard of excellence. We want to just grow that family sense of the organization so that way we can continue to drive forward."

He also hopes to learn about Japan with his family, Matelski said.

"There's so much to do and so much to learn about the Japanese culture and the Japanese people," Matelski said. "This is our first assignment here in Japan, so for my family and I, it's just a tremendous opportunity to learn something new [and] teach people other things about where I'm from."

Matelski also had a message for the garrison team: "I'm honored to work with you and get to know you," he said. "I want to know you and your families [and] to work together to achieve much in the next few years."