March 30, 2016 —
WASHINGTON (March 30, 2016) — The men and women of U.S. Central Command have met every
challenge thrown at them under the leadership of Army Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III,
and they won’t miss a beat as Army Gen. Joseph L. Votel takes the reins,
Defense Secretary Ash Carter said in Tampa, Florida, Wednesday.
Carter presided at the
change-of-command ceremony between the two men. Earlier in the day, he presided
as Army Gen. Raymond A. “Tony” Thomas received the flag of U.S. Special
Operations Command from Votel.
Carter pointed to the myriad of
challenges that the command has faced, from conducting operations in
Afghanistan to supporting allies on the Arabian Peninsula to engaging with
leaders across the 20-nation CENTCOM area of operations.
He singled out the counter-Islamic
State of Iraq and the Levant effort for special mention. The object of the
campaign is to destroy the ISIL parent tumor in Syria and Iraq, combat the
spreading ISIL cancer worldwide and to protect the homeland.
“One of the leaders we celebrate
today put a finer point on our mission,” Carter said. “As General Austin has
said, ‘We’ve got to keep our dukes up.’”
The CENTCOM-led support in the
region is giving local forces the advantage against ISIL, the secretary told
the audience. “With additional training and assistance for local forces, and
with support from coalition partners, we're continuing to gather momentum, and
we will deliver ISIL a lasting defeat,” Carter said.
If it was only ISIL the commander of
U.S. Central Command had to deal with, it would be enough. But the region is
incredibly complex and volatile, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said
during the ceremony. “There has been no other geographic combatant command that
has been asked to do more, and no other combatant command has done more over
the past several years than the United States Central Command,” Marine Corps
Gen. Joe Dunford said.
The country recognizes and
appreciates the service and sacrifices of the CENTCOM team, the general said.
“We’ve asked a lot of you, and you’ve delivered,” he said. “When you’re
responsible for a part of the world that consists of places like Iraq, Syria,
Iran, Yemen, Egypt, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Lebanon, you never know what kind
of crisis or challenge you are going to wake up to in the morning.”
Pundits Forecasted Doom
Dunford reminded people that just a
short while ago, many pundits were forecasting doom. “But fortunately, the
CENTCOM team wasn’t listening,” he said. “They were too busy developing ways to
push back on the enemy and gain momentum. They were too busy developing and
maintaining a coalition of more than 60 nations. They were too busy improving
intelligence and targeting process and building the capacity of our partners.
They were too busy incorporating the lessons learned during the first year of
the fight and making the necessary adjustments to win.”
All speakers at the event talked
about the tumultuous nature of the Central Command region. Austin addressed the
challenges he confronted upon taking command in 2013.
“As you look across that vast
expanse, you see unprecedented conflict and turmoil, widespread discord and
tremendous human suffering,” he said. “However, despite the many challenges
present in that part of the world, I do believe that there is cause for
The reason for his optimism, he
added, is that the service members, civilians and contractors who make up
CENTCOM “perform miracles on a routine basis.”
Nowhere is that more evident than
with the campaign against ISIL, Austin said. “They have less territory, they
have less freedom of movement, and we – the coalition – we now have the
momentum for the campaign in Iraq and Syria,” he added. “We can expect to see
that momentum build in the coming weeks and months as a result of this great
team over the past year and a half.”
Getting It Done
While defeat of ISIL will take time
and will require the active support of the international community, “we will
get it done,” Austin said.
The man who will carry the flag
onward thanked Austin for his support, counsel and advice. Votel, too, spoke of
the region as an area of persistent strife and conflict and said the nation
looks to Centcom to be “the guarantors of American interests in this vital and
deeply challenging part of the world.”
Votel laid out his priorities, with
the first being to continue efforts to understand the complex operational
environment and continue to use the network of interagency and international
partners “to stay ready and provide the best options for our civilian
“We will recognize that success downrange starts
with maintaining an agile and responsive headquarters for our subordinates,” he
said. “We will embrace allies, partners and interagency colleagues and remember
that what we do in CENTCOM often affects activities and interests in other