FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas – Marine Gen. John F. Kelly paid a visit to U.S. Army South here Jan. 15, his first visit since taking command of U.S. Southern Command last November.<br /> <br /> U.S. Army South is the Army Service Component Command of U.S. Southern Command. SOUTHCOM's area of responsibility encompasses 31 countries and 15 areas of special sovereignty in Central and South America, and the Caribbean and covers about 15.6 million square miles.<br /> <br /> Kelly said the AOR in which SOUTHCOM and Army South operate is an important one to the United States.<br /> <br /> “What we do in this part of the world is very, very different than what some of the other folks are doing,” said Kelly. “Clearly it’s different than what they’re doing in the Middle East, but it’s no less important. We have challenges in this part of the [world] and the nations down here want to partner with us.”<br /> <br /> During his one-day visit, Kelly met with Maj. Gen. Frederick S. Rudesheim, commanding general, U.S. Army South, and other key command leaders before receiving a briefing on the current command structure and operations within the AOR. Kelly also toured the Army South headquarters building and received capability demonstrations by soldiers and civilians in several staff directorates.<br /> <br /> In addition, Kelly and Command Sgt. Maj. Eric J. Geressy, the SOUTHCOM senior enlisted advisor, made time to meet with several junior enlisted Army South soldiers during a luncheon. <br /> <br /> Throughout his visit, Kelly stressed the importance of the Army South mission.<br /> <br /> Kelly said narco-trafficking, part of a range of transnational threats, is a prime example of security challenges that require our region to work collectively and holistically with partner nations in order to mitigate the impact.<br /> <br /> “[Nations within the region] have already been shouldering tremendous burdens in terms of drugs and narco-terrorism. Those are things that we want to help them get after,” said Kelly. “The issue of drugs is an influence in our country that costs nearly 200 billion dollars and somewhere around 30,000 lives a year. The first line of defense is here under SOUTHCOM. I would say to all of the professionals, regardless of the uniform that you wear, what you do here is important and it has a direct effect on large cities and small towns in America.”<br /> <br /> While at Fort Sam Houston, Kelly also took the opportunity to visit the U.S. Marine Corps Wounded Warrior Battalion at Brooke Army Medical Center.