TAMPA - The four-star generals on a MacDill Air Force Base stage this morning were the past and future of American troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"We were at the height of the offensive. We were north of the berm and thundering towards Baghdad 10 years ago today," said General Lloyd J. Austin, III.
General Austin and General James Mattis stormed Baghdad in 2001 -- Austin leading Army soldiers, Mattis leading Marines. Friday they were brought together again as Mattis turned over U.S. CENTCOM command to his battle buddy.
"Soon we'll be required to complete the transfer of responsibility to the Afghans and also transition our people and our equipment out of that country. This represents an extremely challenging undertaking," said General Austin.
Austin is the first African American CENTCOM Commander. He is also the last U.S. Commander in Iraq.
"These are historic times and challenging times and much more will be required of us in the days ahead for the world that we live in remains complex and extremely volatile," he said.
Security at MacDill was tighter than a normal ceremony. U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and several Foreign Ambassadors from Iraq, Afghanistan, Bahrain, and Qatar were in attendance.
But another high-profile guest says she turned down an invite.
Jill Kelley, at the center of the General Petraeus scandal, claims in a statement she was humbled by General Mattis’ gracious invitation, calling him a friend. She also says "with the multiple press inquiries about my attendance, I do not want to distract from this special day, continuing that "it is with enormous regret that I will not be attending."
MacDill officials will not confirm if Kelley was indeed invited.
All the attention was focused on CENTCOM's new boss-- and the soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines who sacrifice for our country.
"I am honored the opportunity to return here once again to serve as the next CENTCOM Commander," said General Austin.
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