MACDILL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. - Army Gen. Lloyd J. Austin, III, commander of U.S. Central Command, passes the command flag to Command Sergeant Major Frank Grippe, his senior enlisted leader, during the USCENTCOM change of command ceremony presided over by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel here March 22. The passing of the flag marks the beginning of General Austin’s tour as commander of USCENTCOM. General Austin comes to MacDill Air Force Base following his tour as Vice Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Melanie Bulow-Kelly)
MACDILL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. (March 22, 2013) — In a ceremony here presided over by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, Gen. Lloyd J. Austin, III, assumed command of U.S. Central Command from Gen. James N. Mattis, March 22.
“Ten years ago, both Jim Mattis and Lloyd Austin were in the Iraqi desert, on opposite sides of the Euphrates River helping lead their troops in the drive to Baghdad,” said Secretary Hagel during his remarks. “Today, these battle-tested leaders share a single stage; one having completed a distinguished command and one ready to step into his place.”
Attendees at the ceremony included Gen. Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; Gen. James F. Amos, Commandant of the Marine Corps; Gen. John F. Kelly, commander of U.S. Southern Command; Adm. William H. McRaven, commander of U.S. Special Operations Command; several NATO officials; chiefs of defense from USCENTCOM coalition countries; and ambassadors to the United States. Also in attendance were several local, state and national representatives including U.S. House of Representatives members Hon. Bill Young from Florida’s District 13, and Hon. Kathy Castor from Florida’s District 14, and Tampa Mayor, Bob Buckhorn.
Secretary Hagel spoke on General Mattis’ leadership by noting the significant roles General Mattis has played in the CENTCOM AOR throughout his career, including leading a battalion of Marines during Operation Desert Storm, and commanding the longest assault from the sea in modern history at the head of Task Force 58 during the 400-mile inland push into Afghanistan after the 9/11 attacks. Additionally, during the invasion of Iraq, General Mattis led 1st Marine Division on the longest overland assault in Marine Corps history as well as during the battle of Fallujah.
“Jim Mattis has been front and center in every major combat operation this nation has conducted for more than two decades,” said Secretary Hagel. “He’s earned the respect of all around him-above and below-because he loved his work and those he served with.”
General Mattis, who will retire later this year after more than 40 years of service, gave credit for his success as the commander of USCENTCOM to its service members, civilians and coalition forces.
“It’s been an absolute delight and pleasure to serve alongside the U.S. and foreign Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Coast Guardsmen, Marines and civilians who work together here in Tampa [and] across the tumultuous region in the interest of peace,” said General Mattis as he spoke about the men and women of USCENTCOM. “Lloyd, we’ve served side by side repeatedly and I can think of no one more prepared to command CENTCOM. I pass to you the finest war-fighting team on the earth.”
General Austin comes to MacDill AFB following his tour as Vice Chief of Staff for the U.S. Army and, as the various speakers noted, is no stranger to the USCENTCOM AOR or mission. General Austin served in a variety of command positions during Operations Iraqi and Enduring Freedom to include U.S. Forces-Iraq commander from September 2010 to December 2011; Multi-National Corps-Iraq commander from February 2008 to April 2009; and USCENTCOM chief of staff from September 2005 to November 2006. The general also commanded the 10th Mountain Division in Fort Drum, N.Y. from 2003 to 2005, and served as commander of Combined Joint Task Force-180 during OEF during his deployment with 10th Mountain Division.
Secretary Hagel attributed his readiness for the command position not just for his experience, but also his leadership.
“With his calm demeanor, strategic vision, regional experience and knowledge and proven judgment, and with the love and support of Charlene and their children, I’m confident General Austin is prepared to lead this command at a time of dramatic change, challenge and turmoil in its area of responsibility.”
In addressing USCENTCOM personnel for the first time as its commander, General Austin praised the command’s ability to support a wide-ranging mission set.
“When we launched the initial invasion into Iraq in March of 2003, our military and in particular this headquarters – CENTCOM headquarters – was already in the midst of conducting operations in a separate theater in Afghanistan. And so our invasion into Iraq meant that our command would have to manage two campaigns and it did so for well over a decade. This speaks volumes about the quality of the people in this command – military, civilians and contractors.”
“It has been the greatest privilege of my life to be able to the wear the uniform of our nation and to lead and serve alongside America’s sons and daughters,” said General Austin. “I am honored to be given the opportunity to serve now as the commander of this world class organization.”
Video of the event is located at the Pentagon Channel