Change of command

General takes over Third Army at key time

jwilkinson@thestate.comJune 25, 2013 

  • Army to cut 12 combat brigades by 2017

    The U.S. Army will reduce its core combat units to 33 from 45 by 2017 as part of a drawdown from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and in response to federal budget cuts.

    The elimination of 12 brigade combat teams announced Tuesday at the Pentagon will help deliver on plans to pare the active-duty service to 490,000 troops. That’s 80,000 fewer soldiers than currently and about 10,000 more than at the time of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. The Army also will reduce troops in other units not yet specified.

    No bases will be closed. A brigade combat team is a self-contained unit, complete with its own headquarters, intelligence operations and medical capabilities. A team typically has 3,000 to 5,000 troops plus support personnel.

    Deeper cuts will be needed if $500 billion in defense cuts over a decade remain in effect under the process called sequestration, said Gen. Ray Odierno, the Army chief of staff.

    The U.S. brigade combat teams to be deactivated are based at Joint Base Lewis-McCord in Washington State; Fort Bliss and Fort Hood in Texas; Fort Riley in Kansas; Fort Stewart in Georgia; Fort Drum in New York State; Fort Carson in Colorado; Fort Campbell and Fort Knox in Kentucky; and Fort Bragg in North Carolina, according to the documents.

    Bloomberg News

— 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.”

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