With President Barack Obama pledging to empty the prison camps at Guantanamo, the man entrusted with the mission at Ground Zero is a fellow graduate of the president's Hawaii high school whose family has served a commander in chief for three generations.
Rear Adm. Thomas Copeman III took over Friday as the ninth commander of the detention and interrogation center that opened at the U.S. Navy base in Cuba in January 2002.
His father and grandfather served in the Navy before him, one in Vietnam, the other in World War II. Now, if the Pentagon executes the president's order to close the center by Jan. 22, Copeman will be the last commander.
"I think it is a historic mission and I am really proud to be able to be part of it," Copeman told The Miami Herald before relieving Rear Adm. David Thomas in Friday's ceremonies.
As it happens, Copeman was chosen for the assignment before Obama took office — and before the president set a one-year deadline to empty the prison camps. The Navy's bureaucracy moves admirals around the globe like ships at sea. So Thomas, whom Copeman replaces, goes to Norfolk to take charge of an aircraft carrier strike group, a prestigious assignment.
Meantime, Copeman, a 27-year career naval officer, arrived at Guantanamo from an operations job with the Pacific Fleet in Hawaii.
Copeman was a senior when Obama was a sophomore in 1977 at the Punahou School, and while they have exchanged memories of that time, they weren't close then. ''We didn't play basketball together,'' the admiral said.
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