CAMP VICTORY, Iraq, Sept. 1, 2010 — Army Gen. Raymond T. Odierno put it very simply today, as he finished his address at the change of command ceremony for U.S. Forces Iraq.
“Lion 6 – Out,” Odierno said, meaning that the commander had finished using his call sign and was heading for his new assignment at U.S. Joint Forces Command in Norfolk, Va. The ceremony was held here at the al Faw Palace – an ornate edifice built near the Baghdad airport by Saddam Hussein to commemorate the victory over Iran in 1988.
Odierno handed the reins of the command to Army Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III. Vice President Joe Biden, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, U.S. Ambassador to Iraq James Jeffrey and Iraqi security leaders attended the ceremony. U.S. Marine Corps. Gen. James Mattis, U.S. Central Command Chief, presided as Odierno passed the command flag to Austin.
The change in command coincided with a change in mission for USFI. “The United States has ended its combat mission in Iraq,” Biden said before the ceremony. “Iraqi troops are taking lead responsibility for their country’s security.”
The United States kept its promise to draw down troops and end Operation Iraqi Freedom and put in place Operation New Dawn, the vice president said. It means that the 50,000 U.S. troops now in Iraq are involved solely in training and mentoring Iraqi units. There is a residual counterinsurgency mission, but even that is Iraqi-led.
The mission here, though, remains important to the United States and to the region, Gates said.
Gates took the opportunity to focus on the troops still in Iraq that will serve in an advise and assist role for Iraqi security forces. “Even as the weight of our military efforts and public attention has shifted to Afghanistan, you should know your work here going forward is critical to the future of this part of the world, and to the national security of our country,” the secretary said. “You have my gratitude and respect for your service and sacrifice, and for the service and sacrifice of your families.”
Gates praised Odierno for his leadership in Iraq. During Odierno’s tenure, the command shifted from Multinational Forces Iraq to U.S. Forces Iraq. Odierno shifted American forces out of the cities and sculpted the advise and assist mission that all six U.S. brigades in country now have. And he did all this while redeploying 74,000 servicemembers back to the United States.
Odierno received his new job after only a seven-month break after serving as the corps commander in Baghdad. “He leaves as one of the few U.S. Army generals in history to command a division, corps and entire theater in the same conflict,” Gates said. “After commanding the 4th Infantry Division in the area around Saddam Hussein’s hometown during the first year of the campaign, General Odierno would later take charge of the Multinational Corps during the darkest days of the war.”
The general crafted the tactics American forces and their allies used to fight a counterinsurgency campaign. “As any student of military history knows, any strategy is only as effective as its execution, and without Ray’s ability to turn plans into results on the ground, we would be facing a far grimmer situation outside these walls today,” Gates said. Odierno returned to command all forces in Iraq. His mission was to build on the hard-fought gains of the surge, keep the proverbial boot on the neck of al-Qaida in Iraq and expand the capacity and capabilities of Iraq’s army and police.
“The dedication of General Odierno, the sacrifices of the troops under his command, and the efforts of our interagency and Iraqi partners made it possible to be where we are today – with a dramatically reduced troop presence and a new mission,” the secretary said.
Gates said the command is fortunate to get Austin as the new commander. The general most recently served as the director of the Joint Staff. Before that he was the corps commander in Iraq and served with the 3rd Infantry Division in the initial invasion of Iraq in 2003.
“Lloyd Austin – like Ray Odierno – has always led by example, asking nothing of his troops that he would not do himself,” Gates said. “He has the unique distinction of being awarded the Silver Star for valour as a general officer, leading from the front during the 3rd Infantry Division’s march to Baghdad more than seven years ago.
“I know he will use his extraordinary talents and experience to build on the success that has been achieved in Iraq, success bought with the blood and sweat of all who have served here,” the secretary continued.
Odierno reflected on Iraqi and American accomplishments in the country. “This period in Iraq’s history will probably be remembered for sacrifice, resiliency and change,” he said. “But I will remember it as a time when the Iraqi people stood up against tyranny, terrorism, extremism and decided to determine their own destiny as a people and as a democratic state.”
The Iraqis, Odierno said, had the help of an incredibly dedicated group of American military personnel and civilians.
“I never lost faith in the adaptability, courage and mental toughness of our servicemembers and civilians to get the job done,” he said. “If there is one lesson I’ve taken from our involvement here it is the sheer magnitude of what we are capable of when we trusted ourselves and focused on our commitment and worked side-by-side, arm-in-arm with our Iraqi partners.”
Odierno urged Iraqi politicians to move quickly to form a representative government based on the results of the March 7 elections.
“A peaceful transition of power following the peaceful and credible elections,” he said, “is the strongest possible response to al-Qaida and other terrorist organizations.”
The Iraqi people have sent a message to their leaders, Odierno said. “I urge all the political blocs to respond by forming a government that is representative of (the peoples’) will,” the general said. “It is time for Iraq to move forward.”
Austin pledged to continue cooperation with the Iraqi security forces, even as the functions of his command transfer to civilian control. Operation New Dawn is an enduring commitment to a new relationship with the Iraqi people, he said.
“It will require a comprehensive and coherent approach by all U.S. government entities, international organizations and the Iraqi government,” Austin said. “The result of that teamwork will be a stable, secure and self-reliant Iraq that benefits the entire region.”
The region will benefit from a stable Iraq, Austin said, noting that Iraq can be a democratic cornerstone of progress in a troubled area. He thanked servicemembers, their civilian compatriots and the Iraqi government for forging new, peaceful relationships with its neighbors.
“Although challenges remain, we will face these challenges together,” Austin said. “Iraq still faces a hostile enemy that is determined to end her progress, and Iraq’s enemies will continue to try to pursue their objectives.
“But make no mistake: our military forces here and those of the Iraqi nation remain committed to insuring that our friends in Iraq will succeed,” he continued. “And we will demonstrate our commitment through a continued partnership, and we will help the Iraqis develop their capability to provide for their own national defense by advising and assisting, training and equipping the security forces.”
U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)