Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

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

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 levesque@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3432.

Gen. Lloyd Austin's rise to Central Command chief now official 03/22/13 [Last modified: Friday, March 22, 2013 10:15pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Tributes pour in for ex-national security adviser Brzezinski

    Nation

    WASHINGTON — Well before he went to the White House in 1977, Jimmy Carter was impressed by the views of foreign policy expert Zbigniew Brzezinski. That Carter immediately liked the Polish-born academic advising his campaign was a plus.

    Foreign policy expert Zbigniew Brzezinski died Friday.
  2. One year after deaths, Sunset Music Festival kicks off with emphasis on water and security

    Public Safety

    TAMPA — Before the beat drops, or even builds, you hear Steve-O.

    "If you don't get water you're lame!"

    "Hey! Free water! Come on!"

    Steve "Steve-O" Raymond motions to guests making the line to grab free water bottle at the entrance of the Sunset Music Festival on the grounds of the Raymond James Stadium parking lot in Tampa. ( LUIS SANTANA   |   Times)
  3. Twins eventually cash in as Rays lose, fall back to .500 (w/video)

    The Heater

    MINNEAPOLIS — The Rays could only battle their way out of trouble for so long Saturday afternoon before succumbing in a 5-2 loss to the Twins.

    MINNEAPOLIS, MN - MAY 27: Brian Dozier #2 of the Minnesota Twins celebrates hitting a two-run home run as Derek Norris #33 of the Tampa Bay Rays looks on during the eighth inning of the game on May 27, 2017 at Target Field in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The Twins defeated the Rays 5-3. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images) 700010973
  4. Rays Tales: The stories behind Corey Dickerson's ascension

    The Heater

    The 25 pounds DH/LF Corey Dickerson lost during the winter through diet and exercise are considered the primary reason for his ascension to one of the American League's most productive hitters, going into the weekend leading in hits, multi-hit games and total bases, and ranked in the top five in average, runs and …

    Tampa Bay Rays designated hitter Corey Dickerson (10) connects for a sac fly, scores Tampa Bay Rays first baseman Steve Pearce (28) in the fourth inning of the game between the Seattle Mariners and the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. on Wednesday, June 15, 2016.
  5. Fans in Florida and beyond won't forget Gregg Allman

    Music & Concerts

    The end can come quickly for those who live fast and live hard, who create worlds with their talent and sometimes come close to throwing them away.

    This Oct. 13, 2011 file photo shows Gregg Allman performs at the Americana Music Association awards show in Nashville, Tenn. On Saturday, May 27, 2017, a publicist said the musician, the singer for The Allman Brothers Band, has died. (AP Photo/Joe Howell, File)