The Corps' command that oversees Marine operations in the Caribbean and Central and South Americas got its first dedicated commander as the service moves to strengthen its presence in that part of the world.

Brig. Gen. Eric Smith became commander ing officer of Marine Corps Forces South on Monday, replacing Brig. Gen. David Coffman, who led the command since 2013. Smith, who has commanded regimental combat teams in Iraq and Afghanistan and previously served as senior military assistant to the deputy defense secretary, will be MARFORSOUTH's first is MARFORSOUTH's first dedicated commander, and the first to be stationed at its headquarters in Miami. Until now, the position was filled by a one-star general who also served as deputy commander of Marine Forces Command, out of Norfolk, Virginia.

The move is an acknowledgement of the need to be present in the region to foster lasting relationships, said Brig. Gen. David Coffman, the MARFORSOUTH's the outgoing commander of MARFORSOUTH. It comes shortly after this Corps deployed about 250 Marines to Central America in the form of a new land-based unit designed to conduct month's deployment of a new 250-man Marine Corps task force formed for humanitarian work and partner training in the region. Central America.

"You must be present to win, like all relationships," Coffman said. "Our value proposition is, if we can do it with light footprint and low cost, we're going to do this."

Coffman and Smith spent last week together in Belize observing and participating in Tradewinds, an annual multilateral exercise that partners Marines and troops from Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean for regional and civil training.

Multinational forces participate in land navigation as part of their jungle warfare training package during Tradewinds 2015 at Guacamallo Bridge, Belize, June 18, 2015. Tradewinds 2015 is a combined, joint U.S. Southern Command-Sponsored exercise and an opportunity for the participating partner nations to come together to enhance regional security. (U.S. Marine Corps Photo by Cpl. Katelyn Hunter/Released)
Multinational forces participate in land navigation as part of their jungle warfare training package during Tradewinds 2015 at Guacamallo Bridge, Belize, June 18, 2015. Tradewinds 2015 is a combined, joint U.S. Southern Command-Sponsored exercise and an opportunity for the participating partner nations to come together to enhance regional security. (U.S. Marine Corps Photo by Cpl. Katelyn Hunter/Released)

Marines and international troops participate in land navigation as part of their jungle warfare training package during Tradewinds 2015 at Guacamallo Bridge, Belize, on June 18.

Photo Credit: Marine Corps

Smith, a former foreign area officer who speaks Spanish and served in Caracas, Venezuela from 2001 to 2003, said he had spent just 48 hours in Miami before departing for Belize for the exercise.

"It's a great jump-in-the-pool introduction," he said. "A great opportunity to see some of the close partners here in Belize."

Smith and Coffman said they planned a seamless handoff of responsibility as Smith settles into his new role. He comes to the post as the region enters its six-month hurricane season and the new Marine unit, task force, Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force-South, prepares to take on new infrastructure missions at the behest of regional leaders.

The paramount goal, said Smith said, wais making sure that Marine Corps assets in the region were deployed in alignment with the priorities of Marine Gen. John Kelly, head of U.S. Southern Command. He said he hoped to capitalize on the region's potential for developing young Marine leaders as well as the prospect of building deeper relationships with partner nations' militaries.

"In all candor, what I believe the area offers to the service is an opportunity for young Marines to come down to an area that hasn't been touched in a while ... a great opportunity to build young [noncommissioned officers], staff NCOs and officers," Smith said. "We do that through a variety of exercises that are ongoing and will take place in the next year. If you're willing to cut your teeth, without a lot of overhead, this is a great place to come."

Along with the move of a dedicated one-star commander to MARFORSOUTH, the command's headquarters is expecting to bulk up its staff by 25 personnel, to about 100, said Capt. Armando Daviu, a command spokesman. Those personnel have not yet arrived, Daviu said, but will begin joining the command in increments at the start of fiscal 2016.