TAMPA, Fla. - A new general is now heading up U.S. Central Command at Tampa’s MacDill Air Force Base.
It was a standing ovation Friday afternoon for General Erik Kurilla, CENTCOM’s 18th and newest commander. His predecessor, as of 1 p.m., the now-retired General Kenneth "Frank" McKenzie said, he cannot think of a better man to succeed him.
"I can’t think of anyone better qualified to lead CENTCOM’s next chapter than Erik," McKenzie stated.
McKenzie retired Friday afternoon, after three years as CENTCOM commander at Tampa’s MacDill Air Force Base. He served nearly 43 years in the military with the U.S. Marine Corps.
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley, says McKenzie’s character was what set him apart.
"No matter where Frank was sent, he did his duty with unwavering commitment, and integrity to the nation, to the constitution," Milley said.
In perhaps what was the most pivotal moment of his career, McKenzie oversaw the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan last August.
"It was here at CENTCOM, under Frank’s leadership, that America’s longest war came to an end," Milley explained. "It led to the largest military air evacuation ever led in human history. The cost, in American blood, of that operation, is something we will never forget."
The event was as much about McKenzie as it was about Kurilla. The pair served together at CENTCOM in 2019.
"Erik was my first Chief of Staff, before that he commanded the Army’s Premiere Division, and he went on to command its Premier Corps," McKenzie shared. "It’s only fitting that he should return to Tampa. To command the joint forces premiere combatant command. So the prodigal son returns!"
A West Point grad who most recently commanded the 18th Airborne Corps in Fort Bragg, North Carolina, Milley says like McKenzie, Kurilla has been tested in combat.
"He was wounded twice in combat," Milley said. "In Mosul, Iraq, he recovered from being shot three times, an injury that included a shattered femur- but he recovered fast enough to pass the 75th Ranger Regiment Assessment and continue jumping out of airplanes. You can knock Erik Kurilla down, but you can’t keep him down. He’s as tough and competent a soldier you’ll ever find."
The new commander wrapped his remarks toward CENTCOM’s service members.
"I’m honored to serve alongside you," he said. "You are our nation’s best. In this effort, so much is at stake for the nation and the world. We’ll meet this challenge together."