Naval aviator with Middle East experience tapped to lead U.S. Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor

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A fast-rising Navy admiral with Middle East experience and a background as an aircraft carrier fighter pilot has been nominated to take over U.S. Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor as some of the top Navy jobs in the region fall into place.

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin announced today that the president selected Vice Adm. Samuel J. Paparo Jr. for appointment to the grade of four-star admiral and to lead Pacific Fleet at a time when the Navy has a critical role in countering China in the western Pacific.

Paparo is currently serving as commander of U.S. Naval Forces, Central Command; commander, Fifth Fleet; and commander, Combined Maritime Forces, in Manama, Bahrain.

Paparo just seven months ago on Aug. 19 ago took over the Middle East command after he was nominated for his third star last June. Before that, he was director of operations for U.S. Central Command in Florida.

The world’s largest fleet command, Pacific Fleet encompasses 100 million square miles, nearly half the Earth’s surface, from Antarctica to the Arctic circle and from the West Coast of the United States into the Indian Ocean. The command includes approximately 200 ships and submarines, nearly 1,200 aircraft, and more than 130,000 sailors and civilians.

President Joe Biden also re-nominated the current Pacific Fleet commander, Adm. John Aquilino, to lead the higher U.S. Indo-Pacific Command headquartered at Camp H.M. Smith on Oahu. In early December, then-President Donald Trump named Aquilino to the Indo-Pacific job.

The Pentagon’s 2019 Indo-Pacific Strategy Report called the region the “single most consequential region for America’s future.”

If approved by the U.S. Senate, Aquilino would take over in the spring as head of the Indo-Pacific from Adm. Phil Davidson, who held the job since May 30, 2018. The position is typically, although not exclusively, a Navy job.

According to his Navy biography, Paparo, a native of Morton, Pa., graduated from Villanova University and was commissioned in 1987. He is the son of a former enlisted Marine and the grandson of a World War II enlisted sailor.

He is a graduate of the Air Command and Staff College, the Air War College, the Naval War College and the Joint and Combined Warfighting School. Paparo is a “Topgun” fighter weapons school graduate and has flown over 6,000 hours in the F-14, F-15 and F/A-18, with 1,100 carrier landings. He served on exchange duty with the U.S. Air Force flying the F-15C Eagle.

Executive staff tours include service as executive assistant to the commander of U.S. Fleet Forces and executive assistant to the Chief of Naval Operations.