Marine Gen. James N. Mattis, former commander of U.S. Central Command, shakes hands March 22 with Army Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III, USCENTCOM commander, during their change of command ceremony. Mattis will retire later this year after more than 40 years of service. (Senior Airman Melanie Bulow-Kelly / Air Force)
With a short speech, Marine Gen. James Mattis stepped down as head of U.S. Central Command on Friday and began preparing in earnest for retirement.
Mattis was replaced as the head of CENTCOM, out of Tampa, Fla., by Army Gen. Lloyd Austin. It’s expected he’ll retire following a short period of transition behind the scenes.
Mattis, famous for his salty comments, offered another during his change of command ceremony. Addressing Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, he paid rank-and-file service members in CENTCOM a compliment.
“Mister Secretary, Chairman, I would happily storm hell in the company of these troops, who I haven’t the words sufficient to praise, so I will not try,” Mattis said, according to a transcript of the event. “They know how strongly I believe in them, how strongly they have demonstrated to the world that free men and women can fight like the dickens.”
In a March 14 email to Marine Corps Times, Mattis said he prefers to end his 41-year career quietly.
“I’ve had some ‘riotous excursions of the human spirit’ alongside the young Sailors and Marines and it’s time to leave the stage to the young leaders who got their rank the old-fashioned way — they earned their stripes in combat,” Mattis said. “The Corps is in good hands, and it’s been a privilege to serve with the Leathernecks. Now it’s time to go.”