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CENTCOM commander Gen. Frank McKenzie retires after 42 years

U.S. Marine Corps Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr., the commander of U.S. Central Command, speaks to U.S. Soldiers assigned to Train Advise Assist Command – East during his visit in Jalalabad, Afghanistan, Sept. 9, 2019. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Roderick Jacquote)
April 01, 2022

U.S. Marine Corps Gen. Kenneth “Frank” McKenzie, who has led the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) for the past three years, is retiring from the military after 42 years in service.

According to his service biography, McKenzie began his military career after graduating from The Citadel military college in South Carolina in 1979. He commissioned as an infantry officer and commanded at the platoon, company, battalion, Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), and component levels.

McKenzie lead a MEU in combat deployments to Afghanistan in 2004 and Iraq from 2005 to 2006 and served as the Military Secretary to the 33rd and 34th Marine Corps Commandants. Between 2007 and 2008, McKenzie served in the offices of the military’s Joint Staff as a Deputy Director of Operations within the National Military Command Center and Director of the Chairman’s New Administration Transition Team (CNATT), where he oversaw the wartime transition between the George W. Bush and Barack Obama presidential administrations.

McKenzie began his last military assignment in March 2019, leading CENTCOM. In that role, he oversaw all U.S. military operations across a 21-country area of responsibility that spans the Middle East and Central Asia. In that capacity, McKenzie oversaw U.S. combat operations in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan.

As CENTCOM’s commander, McKenzie oversaw several high-profile military missions, including the U.S. special operations to kill ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, in October 2019 and his successor, Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi, in February of this year.

During his CENTCOM tenure, McKenzie also had a role to play in the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, including the military-led evacuation of approximately 124,000 U.S., Afghan and international civilians from Kabul after the U.S.-backed Afghan government collapsed.

McKenzie oversaw the transition of U.S. troops from a combat role in Iraq to one of advising and assisting Iraqi forces. He also oversaw the transfer of Israel from the U.S. European Command (EUCOM) area of responsibility to CENTCOM’s area of responsibility.

“Commanding CENTCOM has been, without a doubt, the single greatest honor of my 42-year career,” McKenzie said during a retirement ceremony at the Tampa convention center in Florida on Friday. “As I neared the end of my previous assignment as the Director of the Joint Staff, there was only one job left that really interested me—and this is it.”

“For the past 21 years, CENTCOM has been the only combatant command in close and enduring contact with America’s enemies,” McKenzie added. “It’s where every combat arms commander wants to be.”

McKenzie’s retirement ceremony is a prelude to a CENTCOM change of command ceremony that will take place later in the day at the command’s headquarters at MacDill Air Force Base. McKenzie is set to be replaced by U.S. Army Gen. Michael Kurilla.

Kurilla is a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and, according to his service biography, has led Airborne, Mechanized, Stryker, Ranger and Joint Special Operations Units in combat. His experience includes a Combat Parachute Assault during Operation Just Cause in Panama in 1989, service in the first Gulf War, peacekeeping missions in Haiti, Kosovo-Macedonia and Bosnia-Herzegovina. He also served throughout combat operations in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Between 2004 and 2014, Kurilla commanded both conventional and special operations forces in Iraq and Afghanistan and served as Commanding General of the 82nd Airborne Division before being brought on as a CENTCOM chief of staff.

“I can think of no one better qualified to write CENTCOM’s next chapter than Erik Kurilla,” McKenzie said Friday.