By Brian Edwards, The Tampa Tribune Staff Writer
The Tampa Tribune, March 1, 1996
For ease of reading, the above clipping has been retyped, below.
TAMPA—The general who led US forces overseeing the return of democracy to Haiti assumed command Thursday of the nation's elite Special Forces headquartered at MacDill Air Force Base.
In a soggy ceremony filled with military pomp and pageantry, Gen. H. Hugh Shelton replaced retiring Gen. Wayne Downing as commander in chief of US Special Operations Command. Shelton becomes the fourth leader of the command since it was formed in April, 1987.
Downing, who spent the last three years as head of Special Operations, retired from a decorated military career that began at West Point in 1958. The Vietnam veteran directed Special Forces during Operation Just Cause in Panama and led a task force during Operation Desert Storm.
Defense Secretary William Perry and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. John Shalikashvili presided over the change of command Thursday. The ceremony dates to 1775 when George Washington took over the Massachusetts militia from Gen. Artemas Ward.
Despite the frequent showers, more than 400 military and local officials watched as Perry transferred the Special Operations flag from Downing to Shelton. Even Ross Perot showed up to bid Downing farewell. Perot has been a longtime supporter of special operations forces.
"These guys do leap over tall buildings when they have to," said Perot.
Perry and Shalikashvili heaped praise on the two generals, who have been in the middle of the military's most important missions recently. "He's just the man to build on the legacy of Gen. Downing," Shalikashvili said of Shelton.
Shelton was preparing plans to invade Haiti and had the planes in the air in 1994 when negotiations rendered the invasion unnecessary, Shalikashvili said. The general didn't miss a beat when his invasion force had to transform itself into a peacekeeping force in a matter of hours, Shalikashvili said.
The Special Forces call themselves "quiet professionals" because few people know much about what they do. The 46,000 soldiers, sailors and airmen in the Special Forces make up less than 2 percent of the Department of Defense. YET THEY AVERAGED 280 MISSIONS A WEEK LAST YEAR IN 137 COUNTRIES (emphasis added). Special Forces include a variety of operations from small, strategic military attacks to combating terrorism.
In addition to Haiti, Special Forces have been involved in Somalia, Turkey, Iraq, Bangladesh, Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, Peru and Ecuador. The forces are coordinating efforts in Bosnia-Herzegovina among the 32 countries involved in the humanitarian mission.