U.S. Army Gen. Lloyd Austin III (right), commander, U.S. Central Command, is greeted by Command Sgt. Maj. Noe Salinas (left), 4th Brigade, 10th Mountain Division, Task Force Patriot, and Col. Mario Diaz, Task Force Patriot’s commander, after landing at Forward Operating Base Gamberi Oct. 6, 2013. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Eric Provost)
WASHINGTON – As more than a decade of conflict winds down in the U.S. Central Command area of operations, CENTCOM’s commander paid tribute to the men and women who have sacrificed there and underscored the nation’s commitment to them.
“At the end of the day, our most important assets are our people,” Army Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III told American Forces Press Service in an interview conducted via email.
These are far more than platitudes from Austin, a U.S. Military Academy graduate and experienced combat leader. He gave the orders for the 3rd Infantry Division’s lead elements to cross the border into Iraq to launch Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003, and returned in 2009 to command Multinational Force Iraq. During Austin’s third deployment to Iraq, in 2010 as commander of U.S. Forces Iraq, he oversaw the drawdown and transition, ultimately casing the colors that officially closed the campaign in December 2011.
Austin also commanded Combined Joint Task Force 180 in Afghanistan from 2003 to 2005, and served as CENTCOM’s chief of staff from 2005 to 2006 before returning to the command’s Tampa, Fla., headquarters as commander earlier this year.
“We absolutely could not have accomplished all that we have in Iraq and Afghanistan over the past 12-plus years were it not for the selfless service and sacrifices made by the outstanding men and women serving in our ranks,” Austin said. He also noted the staunch support from families and loved ones that sustained the troops through long, challenging deployments.
Now, as U.S. forces return from combat and rejoin their families and communities, Austin said, the nation must live up to its obligation to stand by them.
“We owe it to them to make sure they are cared for properly, and that includes those individuals suffering from the wounds, injuries and illnesses incurred as a result of their service,” he said. “In particular, we are focused on treating those suffering from what are often referred to as the ‘invisible wounds’ of war, namely post-traumatic stress and traumatic brain injury.”
Meanwhile, CENTCOM has joined the rest of the Defense Department in working to reduce the incidence of sexual assault, sexual harassment and suicide within the ranks, he noted. All are top priorities of Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, who has called on the entire department to eliminate these “debilitating and insidious threats” to the force.
“The fact is, the actions we take now will ultimately determine the readiness of our military for the next decade and beyond,” Austin said. “We must do all that we can to keep faith with our troops and civilians and their families, recognizing that we still have a great deal of work to do in the coming days.”
Austin said he worries that as U.S. forces return home from Afghanistan, the American people “will grow weary of supporting the military.”
“We must all work together to make sure this does not happen,” he said.