SUMTER — The new commander of Third Army/U.S. Army Central – Lt. Gen. James Terry – takes the reins of the logistics and planning arm of the Army in the Middle East and central Asia at a critical time.
Third Army will be in charge of the withdrawal of troops and equipment from Afghanistan over the next year. The unit also is responsible for contingency planning for a broadening civil war in Syria and neighboring countries as well as managing humanitarian aid delivery to Syrian refugees who fled to Jordan.
Terry, a 57-year-old north Georgia native, most recently commanded all U.S. troops in Afghanistan.
“I am familiar with Third Army, I understand our mission and I’m certain our nation’s leaders will call upon us in the days ahead,” Terry said during a change-of-command ceremony Tuesday at the command’s new headquarters at Shaw Air Force Base in Sumter.
Terry will face completing those missions in the face of ongoing budget cuts. He said he would be more in tune with any budget issues after 90 days in his new job; but, his experience as commander of all U.S. troops in Afghanistan leads him to believe that the cuts would not affect the Army’s ability to complete its overseas mission.
“There was no impact,” he said.
Terry took command from Lt. Gen. Vincent Brooks in the Third Army’s first change of leadership since it moved from Georgia in 2011. Brooks has been promoted to a four-star general and leaves to command the U.S. Army in the Pacific based in Hawaii.
Third Army is charged with supporting all U.S. forces – nearly 200,000 service members and civilian workers – in a 20-nation swath stretching from Egypt to Kazakhstan. The new headquarters building at Shaw is named Patton Hall, after Gen. George Patton, the famed World War II general who commanded Third Army in its dash across Europe.
Third Army consists of about 1,300 soldiers at command posts at Shaw and a base in Kuwait. The command also has 15,000 soldiers deployed in the Middle East and central Asia.
The modern Third Army was responsible for the withdrawal of 117,000 troops, plus all their equipment and vehicles, from Iraq. That withdrawal culminated with the last American convoy crossing the border into Kuwait in December of 2011.
A withdrawal of the remaining 66,000 U.S. troops and their equipment from Afghanistan will be a more difficult operation, said Army vice chief of staff John Campbell, a four-star general who presided over Tuesday’s change-of-command ceremony. The U.S. will reduce its number of troops in half by February.
Afghanistan is a more rugged and mountainous country and is bordered by Iran and Pakistan. The former is an openly hostile nation and the latter is a sometimes reluctant partner harboring enemy combatants.
Iraq was bordered by close U.S. ally Kuwait, which had major port facilities. In Afghanistan, men and material will have to be shipped out by air with the assistance of border countries including Turkmenistan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.
“You can’t simply drive out of the country into Kuwait like we did in Iraq,” said Campbell, who noted that outgoing commander Brooks set up many of the logistical systems and diplomatic agreements that will make that drawdown possible.
“It will be a hard road,” Campbell said to Terry, “but you’re with a good team.”