updated 1/30/2009 7:04:02 PM ET 2009-01-31T00:04:02

A senior Navy officer based in Hawaii who once went to school with President Barack Obama will be the next commander of the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, the Pentagon said Friday.

Rear Adm. Thomas H. Copeman III has been assigned as commander of the Joint Task Force that runs the U.S. offshore prison in Cuba, said Adm. Gary Roughead, the chief of Naval operations. Copeman is currently the deputy chief of staff for operations, training and readiness for the U.S. Pacific Fleet in Pearl Harbor.

The Pentagon did not say when Copeman takes over at Guantanamo, but he will preside over a historic period. In one of his first acts as president, Obama ordered the detention center closed within a year. About 245 suspected al-Qaida and Taliban members and others are currently locked up at the U.S. Navy base in southeast Cuba.

Obama and Copeman graduated from Punahou School in Hawaii two years apart. Copeman has said in previously published reports that he didn't know Obama among the roughly 1,600 students at its high school. The two have since met.

Copeman is the son and grandson of Navy veterans, like Obama's rival for the White House, Republican nominee John McCain.

The current commander of Joint Task Force-Guantanamo is Navy Rear Adm. David Thomas. Military press officials at the Pentagon, Pearl Harbor and Guantanamo said they did not know when the change of command would occur. Thomas assumed a two-year tour of duty last May, according to Navy Cmdr. Pauline Storum, director of public affairs for the joint task force.

The U.S. military intends to maintain the Guantanamo base, which is operated under a separate military command structure, even after the detention center closes.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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