The first African-American assumed command of U.S. Coast Guard operations for the Pacific Rim area on Monday amid speeches, a brass band and a gun salute.

There was also a helicopter flyover and some rain.

It began falling just minutes before Vice Adm. Manson Brown — who comes to Alameda from a command in Hawaii — officially took over duties for a region that stretches across 73 million square miles.

As the drops tapped the brim of his cap and peppered his freshly-starched uniform, Brown said it was a good omen.

"Coming from Hawaii, they say rain is a blessing," the new commander said. "This is a good thing."

Vice Adm. David Pekoske, who led the change-of-command ceremony at Coast Guard Island in the Oakland-Alameda Estuary, compared the rain to the spray off a ship's bow at sea.

"Coast Guard weather," he called it.

Brown takes over command from Vice Adm. Jody Breckenridge, who is retiring after serving 34 years with the Coast Guard.

Breckenridge was the first woman to command the Pacific Area, which is based in Alameda and ranges from the waters off South America to the Far East and north to the Arctic Circle.

It involves 32,700 personnel and 68 cutters.

"It was truly an honor for me," Breckenridge said before her flag was lowered and Brown's raised.

A native of Washington, D.C, Brown graduated from the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in 1978.


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He was acting deputy chief of staff following the terrorist attacks of 9/11 and helped restore Iraq's transportation systems as an adviser to the provisional government in Baghdad six years ago.

Brown most recently led the 14th Coast Guard District in Hawaii.

As commander in Alameda, Brown will help oversee anti-drug operations off South America and will work closely with Mexican authorities as part of protecting the southern border of the United States.

On Monday, however, the thoughts of some were on the work of the Coast Guard in the Gulf Coast, where crews are working to contain the massive British Petroleum Oil spill.

"Their lives, their livelihoods and indeed their way of life are affected by this spill," Pekoske said.

The cutters Morgenthau and Waesche were docked bow-to-bow at the pier where the men and women who will serve under Brown gathered to watch him officially take command.

A National Security Cutter, Waesche was commissioned earlier this month.

Among those who also attended the ceremony were Alameda Mayor Beverly Johnson and Norman Mineta, the former transportation secretary under President George W. Bush.