TAMPA — The Marine Corps designated its new central command at MacDill Air Force Base as a standalone headquarters for its Middle East forces with a brief ceremony Monday.
The leader of the Marine Corps Forces Central Command, or MARCENT, had previously split his time between MacDill and Camp Pendleton in California.
That general had been responsible for MARCENT's 15,000 Marines in the Middle East, in addition to 45,000 assigned to Pendleton.
Now, Lt. Gen. Robert B. Neller will be based at MacDill and focus all of his efforts on Marine forces in the Middle East.
His troops fall under the umbrella of U.S. Central Command, or CentCom, which also is headquartered at MacDill.
From a staffing standpoint, the move does not bring any additional personnel to MacDill, the Marine Corps says. About 150 people are assigned to MARCENT's MacDill headquarters.
"This is important for the Marine Corps and for Central Command," Neller said. "Up until now, there has been one officer who had two hats. By virtue of having two different jobs ... you end up having to split yourself. You can't be entirely focused on the one assignment.
"It ... shows commitment to Central Command. It doesn't show a lack of commitment anywhere else."
Neller said the importance of Central Command's area of responsibility was demonstrated by recent events, including the Taliban attack Friday on a U.S. base in Afghanistan that killed two Marines and destroyed at least six Harrier jets.
Referring to the base attack, Neller said: "I'm confident we'll come up with a way to prevent this from happening again. There's a war over there. The enemy gets a vote. For a short period of time, they did what they did. But all of the attackers, except for one we captured wounded, they're no longer able to do this type of thing again."
Why create the standalone command now?
"I would say the events of the past week answer that question by itself," Neller said.
Marine Gen. James Mattis, Central Command's commander, said at the ceremony that having a MARCENT commander focused only on the Middle East would be useful.
"We look for men who enjoy fighting, if it comes to that," Mattis said. "The maniacs who attacked us on 9/11, they thought that by hurting us, they could scare us."
Referring to Marines gathered for the ceremony, Mattis said, "We don't scare."
William R. Levesque can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3432.