From Next week, [French Gen. Stephane] Abrial will formally become NATO’s commander of military modernization. It will be the first time in NATO’s 60-year history that a non-American officer has filled the position, normally held by a four-star U.S. general.

In a ceremony aboard the USS Eisenhower aircraft carrier, Abrial will take over from Marine Corps Gen. James Mattis as Supreme Allied Commander Transformation.

After a career as a fighter pilot and operational commander, Abrial said Wednesday that he never expected to find himself in this job — the only strategic command within the 28-nation alliance that is headquartered in North America. “It’s challenging and a very satisfying position,” he said.

The 55-year-old Abrial is no stranger to American soil.

He graduated from the U.S. Air Force Academy in 1974 and the U.S. Air War College in Montgomery, Ala., in 1992. He has served nearly one-third of his career outside of his country — not unusual for an American, but rare for France. When his daughter, now a teen, learned to talk, one of the first phrases she said in French was, “I was born American.” (photo: Scott Wagers/DoD)