Editor’s note: French Ambassador Philippe Etienne will be touring Central Command at MacDill Air Force Base this week, where France has had military service members since 2001. He is traveling to Florida to witness Thursday’s scheduled launch of the SpaceX Crew Dragon, which will carry Thomas Pesquet to the International Space Station, where he will become the first French astronaut to be its commander.
On Sept. 18, 2001, French President Jacques Chirac flew over Manhattan to show solidarity with the American people at a time of grief and sorrow. He was the first foreign head of state to come to the United States in order to lend official support from the United States’ oldest ally to the American people.
Over the next few months, this support was reflected by the French armed forces’ engagement in Afghanistan, alongside the U.S. troops. This deployment was supported by the creation of a French military detachment here in Florida in October 2001, almost 20 years ago now, tasked with collaborating with U.S. Central Command.
Under the command of Brig. Gen. Loic J. Mizon, this detachment, which today comprises 20 soldiers, is tasked with maintaining a special link between French military headquarters in Paris and Central Command, as well as other U.S. headquarters in Tampa. In order to carry out its mission at this strategic level, the French detachment has all the operational expertise necessary for modern operations, in all traditional domains — land, air and sea — as well as cyberspace. Fully integrated within Central Command’s multinational coordination center, French personnel also interact with representatives from the other 35 nations present within CentCom.
Beyond current operations (such as Operation Inherent Resolve in Iraq), the detachment continues, despite the pandemic, to maintain links with the American people. Before Christmas, France’s senior representative bestowed the Legion of Honor, France’s highest award, created by Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte, upon a D-Day veteran. Ralph Pearson was a pilot during World War II; he dropped the paratroopers from the 82nd Airborne Division over France during the D-Day invasion. His commitment, more than 70 years ago, serves as an example to younger service members.
Twenty years of service, working together side by side, cannot be described in just a few lines. Suffice to say that, after Afghanistan, where France deployed, over a period of 10 years, important task forces and lost 88 soldiers, France also immediately responded, in 2014, to the call from former CentCom commander and current Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, when he launched the military coalition to support Iraq’s security forces in their fight against ISIS.
This successful operation resulted in the territorial defeat of the so-called caliphate in 2018. Although our efforts to ensure the defeat of ISIS must continue, the Iraqi people can now envisage a brighter future with the support of the trainers and advisers of the international coalition known as the Combined Joint Task Force — Operation Inherent Resolve, supported by 83 countries.
Our common commitment to ensuring a stable and peaceful Middle East is ongoing. This was showcased when the Carrier Strike Group Charles de Gaulle, the flagship of the French Navy, took the helm of U.S. Task Force 50, on March 31 for the second time. This integration underlines the interoperability of the U.S. and French navies and our shared determination to strengthen our bilateral cooperation.
The French military personnel from the liaison mission in Tampa are proud to serve on a daily basis beside their American brothers and sisters-in-arms: Every day, they experience the high regard the leader of the free world has for their allies and partners.
Philippe Etienne is the Ambassador of France to the United States, and Loic J. Mizon is a brigadier general in the French military.