FORT BELVOIR, Virginia -- Lt. Gen. Paul Nakasone took command Friday of U.S. Army Cyber Command and Second Army at a time when the Army's newest command is at the forefront of the nation's effort to prevent a "cyber Pearl Harbor."
"Army Cyber is racing the clock literally every day to stay ahead of adversaries in cyberspace," said the Army's top officer, Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley, at the change-of-command ceremony here on Friday.
"The first shots of the next actual war will likely be fired in cyberspace and likely with devastating effect," Milley said at the event. "Many analysts and senior government officials have said their greatest fear is a cyber Pearl Harbor. Paul Nakasone's father was at Pearl Harbor as a 14-year-old young man. We never want to see that day happen again."
Nakasone returns to Army Cyber Command, where he was deputy commanding general for operations before leaving two years ago to become commander of the Cyber National Mission Force at U.S. Cyber Command.
He took command from his predecessor, Lt. Gen. Edward Cardon, who was at the helm of Army Cyber Command for more than three years during a time Cardon characterized as one of "exponential" growth.
At the ceremony, Cardon said his successor's "knowledge and experience in cyberspace is unmatched."
Milley called Nakasone a "superstar."
"You're absolutely the right leader at the right time, and you're at the right place, and I'm so proud of you," Milley said to Nakasone during the ceremony, calling him a "superb intelligence officer."
"Paul Nakasone has absolutely the right credentials to lead Army cyber to the next chapter," Milley said to the audience. "You are witnessing a superstar taking this command."
Nakasone said he is "pleased to return to a command where leadership has been and always will be our top priority."
"We are at the forefront of one of the most transformative times in our Army's history, operating in a dynamic and challenging domain that is revolutionizing the way our Army fights and wins," Nakasone said. "Our focus will be on defending our networks, data and weapons systems, delivering effects against our adversaries in and through cyberspace, and designing, building, deploying and integrating capabilities for the future fight, spanning cyberspace, electronic warfare and information operations."
To the audience, he said, "Welcome to the place where ones and zeroes never sleep."
Milley emphasized the growing importance of the Army’s cyber efforts in a multi-domain force.
Army Cyber Command is "literally on the front lines of freedom, on the wall 24/7," Milley said. "Your guard can never be lowered. Your success or failure as a command will mean the difference to the United States between victory or defeat in war."
The danger is real, he said.
"Very serious cyber capability right now is being developed and deployed by major nation states, some of them not our friends," Milley said. "It is entirely possible to inflict widespread damage on a country’s economy and military" through cyber attacks.
Army Cyber is an "incredible command" that is "rapidly increasing in size and scope, and in importance to the nation and the Army in defense of our liberties," he said.
The six-year-old command is now an "established and critical asset in the inventory of our defense," Milley said. "It will continue to be built while engaged in close combat, virtual combat to be sure, the combat of the Internet, the combat of cyber, but combat nonetheless, with the adversaries of our country."
Cardon created a "preeminent world-class cyber force, never mind that he had no budget, never mind that he had no guidance … that operational forces either didn’t exist or were already in contact with the enemy," Milley said.
"Ed [Cardon] was absolutely the right choice to lead ArCyber," Milley said. "He has always been a change agent … one of the few engineers who commanded a ground maneuver brigade."
Under Cardon’s leadership as the command’s second commander, the organization rapidly built the cyber force up to 41 active mission support teams and established a new cyber career branch that takes its place alongside infantry and armor.
Cyber elements were integrated into overseas combat missions and alongside maneuver units at Army Combat Training Centers. Next month, ground will be broken for the new Army Cyber Command
headquarters at Fort Gordon, Georgia
"Ed’s work at training centers is proliferating throughout all of our Army’s formations," Milley said, adding that Cardon fostered private sector engagements to ensure the Army remains on the cutting edge of cyberspace operations.
Cardon directed most of his farewell remarks to thanking those he works with, and those who work for him.
"I consider myself truly blessed to have had the opportunity to lead this remarkable command at this critical point in its history," said Cardon.
The command has grown "exponentially, in manning, training, equipping, resourcing," Cardon said.
The pace of change in this domain will continue to demand orders of magnitude of efforts to improve, adapt and innovate in capabilities and readiness, he said.
Cardon’s next position will be director of the Army’s Office of Business Transformation.
In addition to serving at Army Cyber Command, Nakasone has had Army assignments in the United States, the Republic of Korea, Iraq and Afghanistan.
He has commanded at company, battalion and brigade levels, and served as the senior intelligence officer at the battalion, division and corps levels. He has also twice served as a staff officer on the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Nakasone is a graduate of the U.S. Army War College, the Command and General Staff College, and Defense Intelligence College. He has graduate degrees from the U.S. Army War College, the National Defense Intelligence College and the University of Southern California.
He’s also part of "Team Nakasone" – with his wife, Susan, and their four children.
Kathleen Curthoys is editor of Army Times. She has been an editor at Military Times for 20 years, covering issues that affect service members. She previously worked as an editor and staff writer at newspapers in Columbus, Georgia; Huntsville, Alabama; Bloomington, Indiana; Monterey, California and in Germany.