By C. Todd Lopez
WASHINGTON (April 01, 2022) -- In Tampa, Florida, today, Marine Corps Gen. Kenneth Frank McKenzie Jr. passed command of U.S. Central Command over to Army Gen. Michael Erik Kurilla, who at one time served as the command's chief of staff.
From Egypt to Kazakhstan, the Centcom area of responsibility covers some 21 nations in both Asia and Africa, spans more than four million square miles, and is home to more than 560 million people. Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III said running Centcom and its mission is one of the most demanding jobs in the Defense Department.
"This region is where we protect waterways so that global commerce can flow. It is where we fight terrorists who threaten our citizens, and it is where we work with our partners to confront instability from Iran and its proxies," Austin said. "Centcom is central to our security, it is central to our readiness and it is central to our mission."
Partnerships in Centcom, Austin said, are critical. It's something he said Centcom is focused on -- a credit to McKenzie, who served as the commander of Centcom for three years now -- and a challenge to Kurilla who now assumes responsibility.
"Partnerships are especially important because of China and Russia's ambition in the region," Austin said. "But I am confident that Centcom will ensure that the United States remains the partner of choice. That means doubling down on security cooperation. It means allowing our partners even deeper into our training and our exercises, and it means continuing to be a credible and dependable friend. When it comes to deepening partnerships and forging new ones ... Centcom is getting it done."
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark A. Milley said the Centcom area of responsibility is a part of the world nearly every person now in uniform has visited in their career -- the U.S. was at war there in Afghanistan and Iraq for 20 years.
"Centcom is truly critical to the security of our nation, and really to the stability and security of the entire world," Milley said. "It's quite literally the crossroads between Europe, Asia, and Africa. The world's energy supplies come through the Centcom AOR."
Exceptional leadership is needed in Centcom, Milley said. And the passing of command from McKenzie to Kurilla represents a continuation of that leadership.
"I have personally an incredible amount of trust, confidence, and personal respect for Frank McKenzie. He has guided Centcom, and by extension the nation, through some of our most tough times, and he always did it with honor, integrity, tact, competence, humility, operational skill, and on occasion, a bit of humor," Milley said.
For new leadership in Centcom, Milley said Kurilla was custom-made for the job.
"If there ever was some way to feed into a machine the requirements for the perfect leader of Centcom -- the character traits, the attributes, the experiences, the knowledge, and the personality that would be ideal -- that machine would spit out Erik Kurilla," Milley said. "Erik's got vast experience in combat [and] on staffs. He's a visionary, he's a thinker, and he's a doer. He understands both the physical and human terrain, and is able to identify root causes of problems and develop systems. He's not at all a linear thinker. He's actually a very gifted problem solver."
McKenzie, the outgoing Centcom commander, will retire. He said he's proud now to have his name listed among those who have led Centcom for the last 40 years -- including the likes of Army Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf Jr., Marine Corps Gen. Jim Mattis, Army Gen. John Abizaid, Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, Army Gen. Lloyd Austin, and Army Gen. Joseph Votel.
Of Kurilla, McKenzie said he's confident the tradition of excellent leadership in Centcom will continue -- and that he's leaving the command in good hands.
"I can't think of anybody better qualified to lead Centcom's next chapter than Erik Kurilla," McKenzie said. "He's no stranger to the Centcom AOR. He's no stranger to the headquarters."
Kurilla served previously as the chief of staff of Centcom from August 2018 to September 2019, McKenzie said.
"It's only fitting now that he's returned to Tampa to command the joint force's premier combatant command," McKenzie said. "You are in very good hands. Erik, I'm proud to pass the guidon to you."
After assuming command of Centcom, Kurilla discussed some of the challenges he knows await him in one of the most dynamic regions of the world.
"The regions that comprise Centcom: the Levant, the Middle East, South and Central Asia, are home to some of the most important and extraordinary scientific, artistic and social contributions to human history," Kurilla said. "Yet, they are home to violence, instability and conflict. There are areas of great suffering, abuse and human misery."
American leadership in Centcom, he said, can prevent regional threats there from threatening both U.S. interests and the U.S. homeland.
"We therefore must remain fiercely, actively engaged in the 21 countries of Central Command," he said. "We must ensure a favorable balance of power in the region."
Centcom, he said, must participate in ensuring that global trade can continue in the region, and must also ensure that threats there don't develop the capability to harm the U.S. homeland.
"Our adversaries are looking for any sign that America's commitment to the collective security of the region is wavering," he said. "Our adversaries are poised to capitalize on any opportunities that emerge -- we must not grant them any."