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CentCom gets new leader today

Army Gen. Tommy Franks, the commander of U.S. Central Command, will hand over the reins to his deputy, Lt. Gen. John Abizaid, at a ceremony today at the St. Pete Times Forum.

The hourlong event is scheduled to begin at 3 p.m., Maj. Mike Escudie, a CentCom spokesman, said Thursday.

Franks, Abizaid and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld will be the featured speakers.

Staff at the St. Pete Times Forum, 401 Channelside Drive, will issue tickets for the change-of-command ceremony. Attendance is limited to invited guests and people with military identification.

Escudie said people who plan to attend should allow plenty of time to clear security.

The Senate confirmed the appointment of Abizaid, an Arabic-speaking Army general of Lebanese descent, on June 27.

Abizaid will be taking over a region on the front lines of the war on terrorism. CentCom's area of responsibility ranges from the Horn of Africa to Central Asia, including Iraq and a large swath of the Middle East.

Franks, who ran back-to-back wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, will not be retiring from the Army immediately. CentCom officials say he will use up vacation and personal time before he retires, probably in the fall.

Like other prominent generals, Franks is expected to write a book and hit the lecture circuit. He and his wife, Cathy, have been looking at property on Davis Islands.