Saturday, November 18, 2017
Military News

Gen. Lloyd Austin's rise to Central Command chief now official

RECOMMENDED READING


TAMPA — Chaos is leaving the building.

Blunt, hard-charging and ever-quotable Marine Gen. James Mattis — once given the radio call sign "Chaos" — relinquished the helm of U.S. Central Command on Friday to Gen. Lloyd Austin III in a ceremony at MacDill Air Force Base.

Austin is the first African-American to lead CentCom in its 30-year history.

Austin, 59, was the last commander of U.S. troops in Iraq, and now he will oversee as CentCom commander the scheduled withdrawal of all U.S. troops in Afghanistan by the end of 2014.

With new Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel looking on during a ceremony held in one of MacDill's hangars, Austin praised Mattis and then emphasized that the United States isn't turning its back on allies in the region despite leaving Afghanistan.

"The fact is, the full story has not been written," Austin said. "That said, these are historic times and challenging times, and much more will be required of us in the days ahead, for the world we live in remains complex and extremely volatile. … The U.S. will continue to play an important role as a key partner to our friends and allies."

Austin, a West Point graduate with an unblemished 35-year career, isn't well-known outside Pentagon circles. He joined the Army in some of its darkest days after the Vietnam War.

He is known as a hard-working, no-nonsense leader who doesn't seek publicity.

"Leadership is a fascinating thing," Austin said in a 2012 interview with Ebony. "If you look at what the average American envisions the general to be, the commander to be, there's this Patton image. There's this guy who is loud and forceful, the finger-in-the-chest kind of guy. That works well in the movies, but it won't make a guy get up and charge a machine gun for you."

A military change of command is a ritual as old as Rome, and the American version is more about pomp and ceremony than controversy.

Hagel and Austin praised Mattis, who has always been popular with the troops even as rumors swirl about a falling out with President Barack Obama.

"No task was ever beneath him, even as a commanding general," Hagel said. "Whether stepping in to serve as Quantico's duty officer over Christmas so a young Marine could spend the holiday with his family, or crouching in a frozen Afghanistan fighting hole to check on his men in the middle of the night."

Mattis, 62, took the CentCom helm in the summer of 2010 and leaves a few months earlier than what would traditionally be a three-year stint.

Mattis, who could not be reached to comment about his plans, has a reputation for speaking his mind.

"You go into Afghanistan, you got guys who slap around women for five years because they didn't wear a veil," Mattis said in 2005. "You know guys like that ain't got no manhood left anyway, so it's a hell of a lot of fun to shoot them."

But in Tampa, he stepped on few, if any, verbal land mines. Some military watchers say a blunt style may have handicapped Mattis with Obama.

"Pentagon insiders say that he rubbed civilian officials the wrong way — not because he went all 'mad dog,' which is his public image and the view at the White House, but rather because he pushed the civilians so hard on considering the second- and third-order consequences of military action against Iran," Thomas Ricks wrote in January for ForeignPolicy.com.

If any of this were true, Mattis hinted at none of it as he relinquished command.

"I would happily storm hell in the company of these troops, who I haven't the words to sufficiently praise, so I will not try," Mattis said as CentCom troops looked on.

CentCom leaders have struggled to get the media to move on from the controversy generated by Tampa hostess Jill Kelley.

Kelley inadvertently set in motion events that ended the careers of CIA director David Petraeus and Gen. John Allen, former CentCom commander.

After she complained to the FBI about anonymous emails she received that Kelley called threatening, Petraeus' affair with biographer Paula Broadwell was uncovered. Then the Pentagon investigated Allen over emails he shared with Kelley.

The Pentagon cleared Allen, but he decided to end his military career rather than become NATO commander in Europe.

One final act by Mattis as CentCom commander offered a surprise: He invited Kelley to Friday's ceremony, according to a statement by Kelley posted online by WTSP-Ch. 10.

Kelley said her presence would "distract from this special day" honoring Austin and Mattis.

So she declined to attend and, the station reported, released the statement a few minutes before the change of command. Mattis and Kelley could not be reached for comment.

William R. Levesque can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3432.

Comments
Cyber firm accesses CentCom cloud information, gives command low security score

Cyber firm accesses CentCom cloud information, gives command low security score

Every day, military and civilian personnel stationed at the MacDill Air Force Base headquarters of U.S. Central Command use the Internet to reach out to foreign audiences in an effort to combat Islamic State propaganda.To help measure the success of ...
Updated: 6 hours ago
VA’s quiet plan to widen private care with TRICARE stirs concern

VA’s quiet plan to widen private care with TRICARE stirs concern

WASHINGTON — As part of its effort to expand private health care, the Department of Veterans Affairs has been developing plans to merge its health system with the Pentagon’s, a cost-saving measure that veterans groups say could threaten the viability...
Published: 11/17/17
Howard Altman: Missing records confound veterans on base exchange website

Howard Altman: Missing records confound veterans on base exchange website

In the more than three decades that I have been toiling at various paragraph factories, few stories have elicited as much response as the one I wrote about the new program to allow all honorably discharged veterans to shop at military base exchanges ...
Published: 11/17/17
She was an artist who answered a Craigslist ad. Next thing she knew she was best friends with a 93-year-old Pearl Harbor survivor

She was an artist who answered a Craigslist ad. Next thing she knew she was best friends with a 93-year-old Pearl Harbor survivor

University of Miami architecture student Emi Kopke still cannot believe her luck. She answered a Craiglist ad asking for an artist to do hand drawings for a special project. The self-taught artist sent in 15 of her hand drawings — including some of b...
Published: 11/11/17
As fewer serve, burden of war falls heavier on families with tradition of service

As fewer serve, burden of war falls heavier on families with tradition of service

When Lauren Price’s youngest son went off to fight in Iraq in 2008, she handed him a going-away present few parents could offer."I gave him my Iraqi cell phone," said Price, 52, a Navy veteran from New Port Richey who served in the same region of Ira...
Published: 11/10/17
Howard Altman: Army settles flap over who will wear the Green Beret

Howard Altman: Army settles flap over who will wear the Green Beret

I have a hard time picturing Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley, a no-nonsense guy with plenty on his plate, taking time out of his busy day sorting through color swatches.But thanks to one of two recent victories in the battle for Army tradition, ...
Published: 11/09/17
Updated: 11/10/17

Target of racist graffiti wrote it, Air Force Academy says

The discovery of racist graffiti galvanized the Air Force Academy in September, and the superintendent of the Colorado campus turned that into a teaching moment with a speech about diversity and tolerance that found more than a million viewers on the...
Published: 11/08/17
Online expansion opens military exchange to another 240,000 shoppers in Tampa Bay area

Online expansion opens military exchange to another 240,000 shoppers in Tampa Bay area

TAMPA — Military exchanges like the one at MacDill Air Force Base have long offered big savings to active-duty troops, military retirees and their families.Starting Saturday, Veterans Day, deals like 25 percent off on watches, 30 percent off smokers ...
Published: 11/06/17
Updated: 11/10/17
Bowe Bergdahl, the former hostage who pleaded guilty to desertion, avoids prison

Bowe Bergdahl, the former hostage who pleaded guilty to desertion, avoids prison

FORT BRAGG, N.C. — Bowe Bergdahl, the Army sergeant who walked off his post in Afghanistan and triggered a search that wounded some of his comrades, will serve no prison time, a military judge ruled Friday at the end of the politically divisive case...
Published: 11/03/17
Howard Altman: Coast Guard to get special Veterans Day recognition

Howard Altman: Coast Guard to get special Veterans Day recognition

On an average day, the U.S. Coast Guard conducts 45 search and rescue missions, saving 10 lives and more than $1.2 million in property.The agency also seizes 874 pounds of cocaine and 214 pounds of marijuana, interdicts 17 illegal migrants and conduc...
Published: 11/02/17
Updated: 11/03/17