U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Michael D. Turello, the outgoing Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA) commanding general, transferred responsibility to U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Lapthe C. Flora during a change of command ceremony at Camp Lemonnier (CLDJ), Djibouti, June 8. U.S. Army Gen. Stephen J. Townsend, commander of U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM), presided over the ceremony.
Townsend thanked Turello for leading the command with a cool head during crisis response events including attacks against U.S. forces in Kenya and Somalia, providing valuable insights for the secretary of defense’s blank slate review process, and maintaining and improving relationships with the African nations CJTF-HOA partners with.
“Throughout all of that, General Turello was calm and steady; he put a fresh set of eyes on the problems,” Townsend said. “He cooperated superbly with the other components of AFRICOM, the other units here and their missions. Mike, you're a true professional who viewed and understood all that was going on outside your area of responsibility, which I really appreciate.”
Townsend also praised Turello’s leadership during something as unprecedented as the global COVID-19 pandemic. He noted how it had affected everything from major operations to military traditions, like change of command ceremonies, and that CJTF-HOA and Djibouti served as benchmarks for others.
“It's remarkable the transformation we have made and the Djiboutian government has led the way for Africa, and CJTF-HOA has led the way for AFRICOM,” he said. “And Mike has been a superb partner for our Djiboutian leaders, our hosts, and the U.S. embassy team as well."
“It's been an eventful 12 months. Blank slate review. Restructuring the headquarters. Over watching Somalia. Manda Bay. COVID 19 response. Well done, Commander. Fair winds and following seas.”
Townsend also recognized how uniquely suited Flora was to have been selected as HOA’s newest commanding general.
“In his last assignment, he was the deputy commanding general of U.S. Army Africa,” Townsend said. “So General Flora is not arriving, trying to figure out what we do in AFRICOM. He already knows. He knows the command. He knows this continent. Lapthe, welcome to the AFRICOM team. I can promise you one thing, you will not be bored.”
Turello, whose next assignment is as special advisor to the director of the National Guard Bureau, thanked the members of the command for their hard work and dedication and making his time here such a rewarding experience.
“To say that it is a privilege to serve with this team is an understatement,” he said. “To [everyone] at CJTF-HOA and all the commands here in the region, I thank you for your commitment. Being away from home is challenging, whether this is your first deployment or one of many. Despite the difficult and challenging circumstances, you continue to play a vital role in the mission here in East Africa and endure as vital contributors to the region’s success every day.”
As Turello prepared to officially relinquish command he offered one last bit of advice to the incoming commander.
“General Flora, there is no doubt that you will face challenges that you and I cannot imagine as we stand here today. Your task now is to adapt quickly and fill the unique roles required of you to establish your own reputation for excellence and carry on the important mission assigned. Come what may, I am confident that I leave HOA in good hands.”
Once the transfer of authority was completed, Flora thanked Townsend for allowing him the opportunity to take command, saying how humbled he was to lead such an important organization. He then went on to say how much he was looking forward to working with the men and women of CJTF-HOA.
“To my new HOA family, I can't tell you how excited I am to be here,” he said. “In the coming days and weeks, I look forward to meeting as many of you as possible.”
As the ceremony came to a close, Flora issued two challenges to his new command. The first was to embrace the changes coming to the command.
“To me, change signifies progress and we are about to make significant progress together as our missions change,” he said. “I need everyone in the command, regardless of rank, to be on the lookout for areas where we can improve and provide even better support to our war fighters.”
His second challenge was for the members of CJTF-HOA to look out for each other and to not let complacency set, particularly when dealing with social distancing and other COVID-19 safety measures.
“Take care of yourselves and each other. I know it is frustrating that many of the amenities on camp are closed, but I also know that they are closed for a reason and that is to keep all of us safe and healthy. I also know [Camp Lemonnier Commanding Officer] Captain [Ken] Crowe and his team do not want to keep any of the facilities closed any longer than they absolutely have to. So please bear with us a little longer as we find a way ahead."
“I look forward to leading you and those who will succeed you, and I am excited to see what the future holds. Thank you all.”
Due to social distancing, the change of command ceremony was attended by a small number of invited guests, including the Hon. Larry Andre, Ambassador of the United States to Djibouti; His Excellency Mahmoud Ali Youssouf, Djiboutian Minister of Foreign Affairs; His Excellency Hassan Omar Mohamed Bourhan, Djiboutian Minister of Defense; and commanders of units working for or with CJTF-HOA. The event was livestreamed for viewing by those unable to attend in person. The livestream recording is available at https://www.facebook.com/cjtfhornofafrica.