TAMPA — U.S. Central Command will orchestrate wars from a four-story, $60 million headquarters at MacDill Air Force Base, where officials broke ground on the project Monday.
The 250,000-square-foot facility will house about 1,800 military employees who run the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as oversee counterterrorism, counterinsurgency, humanitarian relief and other operations in 20 countries.
"Central Command has long been in need of a new headquarters," Army Gen. David Petraeus said at the ceremony. "To all those who made this moment possible, thank you."
The existing Central Command, or CentCom, headquarters, which was built 25 years ago, will become a parking lot. The CentCom staff has struggled to fit inside the 187,000 square feet of office space, and some employees set up shop in other parts of the base.
The project will create about 350 construction-related jobs in the region. Plans call for the building to meet high environmental standards.
"A lot of those folks who have not had steady work will be put back to work," U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa, said after the groundbreaking.
Upon completion in two years, the headquarters will complement the neighboring new Joint Intelligence Center. The staff began trickling into offices at the recently built center earlier this year, though Maj. John Redfield said it's far from capacity.
Petraeus was named commander of United States Central Command in October after more than a year and a half in charge of operations in Iraq.
The general touted the June 30 withdrawal from cities there during his address, saying it served as a testament to counterinsurgency efforts begun a year ago.
But Petraeus kept most of his remarks lighthearted. He cracked a few jokes about the recent spate of storms, which made soil at the construction site so soggy Monday's ceremony had to be relocated.
"Let's see, I have a rain version and a no-rain version," he said of his speech, evoking chuckles from the crowd. He even had a looks-like-rain address on hand, just in case the sky got cloudy.
Instead of the actual ground, Petraeus and other dignitaries stood under a tent and stuck golden shovels in a symbolic mound of dirt.
"I think it's time to break ground, or at least this man-made mound," he said. "Don't throw it on my wife, please."
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