MACDILL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla., March 28, 2008 – Army Lt. Gen. Martin E. Dempsey became acting chief of U.S. Central Command during a relinquishment-of-command ceremony here today.
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates passed the command’s flag from outgoing commander Navy Adm. William J. Fallon to Dempsey at this Tampa base where CENTCOM has its headquarters.

Gates, accompanied at the ceremony by Navy Adm. Michael G. Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, praised Fallon’s achievements and cited the positive impact the admiral has made as CENTCOM’s commander.

“Under Admiral Fallon’s command, the last year in CENTCOM’s area of operation has been one of great progress on a number of fronts,” Gates said, referring to reduced levels of violence in Iraq compared to a year ago and rollbacks of Taliban influence in Afghanistan from areas they once controlled.

Victories achieved over the past year against al Qaeda in Iraq insurgents during the surge of forces “have allowed us to begin reducing the number of troops in Iraq, easing the stress on the force,” Gates pointed out.

Gates saluted Fallon’s military abilities and vision, noting that he and President Bush both were impressed and influenced by the admiral’s advice and candor.

Fallon has “played a vital role in our discussions and analyses” during recent senior-level meetings on the way ahead in Iraq, Gates said.

The outgoing CENTCOM commander’s leadership ability, strategic thinking and diplomatic skills have benefited the Middle East, Gates said. “We can see it in the increasing willingness of the region to extend diplomatic support to Iraq, and to work together to confront shared threats,” Gates said of the fruits of Fallon’s diplomatic work in the Mideast.

Fallon’s energy, ideas and skill will be missed within the department, Gates said, adding that the admiral’s work as CENTCOM chief “has advanced America’s interests and security” throughout the command’s area of operations.

Gates praised Dempsey’s ability to command CENTCOM, even if only on a temporary basis. President Bush has nominated and the Senate has confirmed Dempsey, a three-star general, to take command of U.S. Army, Europe, which is a four-star billet, when he leaves CENTCOM. Gates described Dempsey’s elevation at CENTCOM to be “a temporary assumption of command.”

“I am confident that he is prepared to lead CENTCOM,” Gates said of Dempsey. “His extensive experience on the ground there will be of great value in the coming months,” Gates said. As a major general, Dempsey commanded the 1st Armored Division there, and as a lieutenant general, he led Multinational Security Transition Command Iraq before he became CENTCOM’s deputy commander.

Mullen described Fallon as a friend and as “a warfighter’s warfighter.” Fallon has always “led from the front,” Mullen added, noting his friend’s leadership ability is “spectacular.”

During his remarks, Fallon praised and thanked President Bush and Gates for their leadership and for providing him the opportunity to serve as CENTCOM’s commander. Fallon saluted Multinational Force Iraq commander Army Gen. David H. Petraeus as a superb officer and as “the principal instrument of success in our efforts in Iraq.”

The outgoing CENTCOM commander said he’s “in awe” of the outstanding teamwork and performance exhibited by the command’s servicemembers and civilians.

Fallon described his life’s philosophy as: “When you have a job to do, try to make a difference,” and to leave things better than when you found them. Of Dempsey, Fallon said: “I can think of no one more qualified to lead CENTCOM.”

Dempsey noted that a quarter-million U.S. servicemembers are deployed overseas in CENTCOM’s operational region in support of the global war against terrorism.

“The tasks before us remain clear; we are a command at war,” Dempsey said. “And, as a command at war, we have a sacred duty to provide the 250,000 soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines in the CENTCOM area of responsibility with whatever resources, direction and support they need to prevail on the battlefield.”

Fallon succeeded Army Gen. John Abizaid as CENTCOM’s commander on March 16, 2007. The admiral resigned his position on March 11 of this year after a controversial Esquire Magazine article inferred that he opposed some aspects of the Bush administration’s policy in the Middle East.

Fallon has about 41 years of military service. He is slated to retire May 1.

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