TAMPA — Completing a change of command touched off by a controversy, the U.S. Central Command's newest leader took control Wednesday and pledged continuity in prosecuting the nation's wars.
In a ceremony at MacDill Air Force Base in South Tampa, Marine Corps Gen. James N. Mattis assumed command of military operations for 20 Middle Eastern countries, including Afghanistan and Iraq.
Addressing the 200,000 military personnel in CentCom's area of responsibility, he pledged to maintain military strategies.
"I have unshakable confidence in you and I pledge to you my unshakable devotion," Mattis said.
U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates presided over the ceremonial passing of a flag from Acting Commander Lt. Gen. John R. Allen to Mattis.
The secretary said Mattis is prepared for the role because he has fought in the region — leading a brigade in southern Afghanistan and being part of the initial attack and stability operations in Iraq.
"He is one of the most formidable warrior-scholars of his generation," Gates said.
The former CentCom commander, Gen. David Petraeus, left to take over directing combat in Afghanistan after the Obama administration forced Gen. Stanley McChrystal to resign over fallout from a blunt article in Rolling Stone magazine.
Allen had been second-in-command under Petraeus, and was asked to fill the post until a new commander could be confirmed.
"The challenge will be enormous but we are optimistic and dedicated to the outcome," Allen said of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The next three years, Allen said, will be critical in bringing stability to the region.
CentCom is expected to complete Operation New Dawn in Iraq, using its relationship with a better-prepared Iraq to eventually withdraw U.S. troops.
"CentCom stands on the verge of momentous developments for the region and the United States," Allen said.
Gates pointed out during the ceremony that CentCom has changed commanders several times since he started in 2006.
"It's dismaying … this is the third time I've done this," Gates said. "Don't know if it says more about CentCom or me."
Gates praised the work of the three leaders appointed during his tenure, which include a sailor, a soldier and now a Marine.
Mattis was confirmed Aug. 5 by the U.S. Senate and resigned his job as commander of the U.S. Joint Forces Command, the Norfolk, Va.-based operations center for training and creating teams of military from all four branches.
That agency is among those recently recommended for cutbacks by Gates.
Mattis also served as NATO's supreme allied commander transformation. He is a graduate of Central Washington State University, the Amphibious Warfare School, Marine Corps Command and Staff College and the National War College.
He thanked Gates for his support and said he wants to enhance the relationships CentCom has already established in the region.
"I am eager to hear how we can best work together to protect the innocent, while enhancing the deep bonds of mutual respect," he said.