Ministers, Ambassadors, Honored Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen, it is a pleasure to be with you today. I want to thank you all for being here and for the tremendous efforts of the team to make this ceremony happen. We're in unprecedented times with the COVID-19 pandemic and I know it makes events like these even more challenging. But the fact that we're gathered together is a reflection of the stadfast importance of NATO Headquarters Sarajevo.
NATO has an enduring commitment to Bosnia and Herzegovina. This commitment has taken several forms, dating back twenty-five years, with the deployment of the NATO-led Implementation Force (IFOR) of 60,000 multinational troops in December 1995. The mission then was to implement the military aspects of the General Framework Agreement for Peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Dayton Peace Accords. Our work together was essential for security and stability, and helped set the conditions for peace.
The NATO-led Stabilization Force (SFOR) arrived a year later to help deter hostilities, stabilize peace and contribute to a safe and secure environment as reconstruction began. When SFOR's mission ended in December 2004, NATO Headquarters Sarajevo was established. This Headquarters has led NATO efforts here ever since – and I'm proud of what the team has accomplished.
In the past year, Brigadier General Edwards has skillfully led the NATO Headquarters Sarajevo in its continuing task of advising Bosnia and Herzegovina's institutions on Defense and Security Sector Reform, Partnership for Peace tasks and progress with its agreed Reform Agenda. There is no doubt that the headquarters here is lean – but the team punches well above its weight and it's an incredibly effective headquarters.
Despite the turmoil of this year, the Headquarters has been a key facilitator for reform in the defense and security sector. Under General Edward's sage leadership, much has been accomplished.
His professional competence and candor generated immediate confidence during key leader engagements as he tirelessly engaged with Bosnia and Herzegovina's leaders and Allied Ambassadors to promote regional stability and to support defense reforms, despite the unprecedented challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic.
As Bill is fond of saying, there are no straight roads in Bosnia and Herzegovina. But his remarkable ability to build effective relationships in a multinational, inter-agency environment defined his time as the Commander and Senior Military Representative of NATO Headquarters Sarajevo. General Edwards brought a strategic understanding, as well as professionalism and leadership, to this command. His experience, communication skills and analytical thinking resulted in significant improvements to NATO Headquarters Sarajevo.
General Edwards led numerous initiatives, including completing multiple assessments and a comprehensive Political and Security Analysis. NATO technical expertise supported the Bosnia and Herzegovina Ministry of Defense and Allied Joint Force Command – Naples in conducting a NATO Evaluation Level 1 assessment of the Armed Forces of Bosnia and Herzegovina Light Infantry Battalion Group. The evaluation represents a major milestone on the path to standing up a NATO interoperable Light Infantry Battalion Group in the Armed Forces of Bosnia and Herzegovina which, when fully vetted, will be available for NATO Peace Support Operations.
During his tenure, NATO Headquarters Sarajevo has provided critical administrative, logistical, information technology and financial management support to the European Force in Bosnia and Herzegovina, while working with national institutions to provide advice and support, and I applaud the excellent cooperation and communication between our two, co-located NATO and EU missions. One of NATO's best advocates, General Edwards conducted numerous events to promote Euro-Atlantic Integration and, when the pandemic limited in-person events, he demonstrated ingenuity by using social media to educate, inform and promote NATO. His robust efforts have spurred strategic conversations about how to best fulfill NATO's enduring commitment to the region.
Simply put, Bill has excelled at every task. His strategic outlook, diplomatic acumen and visionary leadership have further increased readiness and better utilization of resources. NATO Headquarters Sarajevo has made genuine progress and reaffirmed the enduring commitment of NATO to peace, stability and reform. Bill, you have been an indispensable partner and an exceptional commander. You've made a difference in a challenging environment and I want to thank you for a job well done.
But, as we say in the Navy – command is but a fleeting thing. Now it's time to go pay your penance in a higher headquarters. And it's clear that Bill really had an exceptional command tour, because he's been ordered to pay penance in Washington, DC, on the Joint Staff J-5, in the Pentagon, as the new Deputy Director of Strategic Initiatives. But I think you're going to excel. If for no other reason than your propensity to view every day as a Monday, which is pretty perfect for the Pentagon. Happy Monday, Bill, and fair winds and following seas.
I want to also welcome the incoming Commander and Senior Military Representative at NATO Headquarters – Sarajevo. An accomplished soldier, Brigadier General Eric Folkstad brings with him tremendous experience and operational perspectives. He was most recently the Deputy Commanding General of U.S. Army Africa and the Southern European Task Force in Vicenza, Italy. Born into an Army family, he started his career as an enlisted parachutist and then decided maybe it was better to stay inside the aircraft than to jump out…and he became a pilot. He has served in a range of operational and staff assignments in the U.S. Army and has proven expertise and leadership abilities. Eric, I look forward to working with you! I know you will build upon the great work that Bill has accomplished and that you will ensure NATO Headquarters – Sarajevo continues its important work.
The mission of NATO Headquarters Sarajevo is an important one – stability and reform in Bosnia and Herzegovina contribute to peace in the entire region. NATO Headquarters Sarajevo has helped Bosnia and Herzegovina create a better future for 15 years and will continue to do so – we are committed to the reforms on which a stable and secure Bosnia and Herzegovina will be built – today and tomorrow.
I know you will all continue to proudly represent NATO and continue to support consolidating the capacities of Bosnia and Herzegovina's defense institutions. NATO Headquarters – Sarajevo has made a difference and together we will continue to create a better future.