Nagata first gained attention as deputy of the U.S. military contingent in Islamabad, Pakistan, or the Office of the Defense Representative to Pakistan (ODRP). There, Nagata earned a reputation as a brighter-than-most, frank-talking officer who often impressed top brass and military reporters with his assessments of the ground situation in the region throughout the halting relationship between the U.S. and Pakistani militaries.
From there, Nagata was brought to the Pentagon, where he is currently deputy director for special operations on the Joint Staff, earning his second star just last September in a ceremony that drew some big names, including former Gen. David Petraeus.
One glowing review comes from retired Lt. Gen. Frank Kearney, who held the post Nagata is about to step into at Special Operations Command Central (SOCCENT). Kearney later rose to deputy commander of Special Operations Command (SOCOM) and then deputy at National Counterterrorism Center. "Operating from the shadows in support of the fight against al Qaeda and affiliate's senior leaders," he told the E-Ring, "General Nagata has developed inter-agency, country team and U.S. embassy relationships throughout CENTCOM and the Horn of Africa. This unassuming and affable leader with a lethal intellect has in-depth experience with IA partners, regional international SOF and intelligence partners, and integrated with his Special Forces background make him the perfect choice to lead all theater SOF forces in a networked partnership against CENTCOM's terrorist and conventional threats.
"Nagata's experience as the deputy ODRP in Pakistan and his current assignment as the deputy director for special operations in the J-3 shop of the Joint Staff have given him key insights to U.S. policy and earned him a reputation as a direct communicator with deep knowledge of players friend and foe in the region."
Now, he will command all special operators in arguably the most important region in the world for counterterrorism. While Mali and Algeria command current headlines, the Pentagon has focused intently on the region from the Arabian Peninsula to Pakistan as a hotbed for future counterterrorism operations. Nagata undoubtedly will use his old Islamabad contacts -- including with Army chief Gen. Parvez Kayani -- to press for keeping U.S. special operations forces as involved as the president desires.
"He's a quiet warrior. There's very few people in uniform today who have his depth of knowledge about the nature of the wars we've been fighting," said another military officer who is close to Nagata, but wished to remain anonymous. "He's been there, and he's led there and he's utterly brilliant. But you'll never hear him say it. I don't know of anyone who 'gets it' more than him when it comes to understanding the geo-political complexities of that part of the world."
As commander of Special Operations Command Central (SOCCENT), Nagata will operate out of MacDill Air Force Base, Fla., which houses both Central Command and U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM).
He likely will still see plenty of Washington time, though. One of his superiors is SOCOM commander Adm. William McRaven who told the E-Ring at Foreign Policy’s 100 Global Thinkers Gala in November that he spends much of nearly every week working in Washington, face-to-face with President Obama and his top national security team leaders.
U.S. Army photo