Coleville native to replace Tommy Franks

WASHINGTON -- The Senate on Friday confirmed Army Lt. Gen. John Abizaid to replace Gen. Tommy Franks as head of U.S. Central Command, a position that includes responsibility for U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Abizaid, 51, is now one of two deputy commanders of Central Command, which oversees military operations from the Horn of Africa to Central Asia. He was confirmed by voice vote and will be promoted to the rank of general.

Franks is scheduled to hand over the command to Abizaid at a ceremony July 7 at Central Command headquarters in Tampa, Fla.

Senators praised Abizaid during a confirmation hearing Wednesday for his extensive military background and expertise in the Middle East. He is the grandson of Lebanese immigrants, fluent in Arabic, and holds a master's degree in Middle East studies from Harvard.

They also praised his bluntness.

At the hearing, Abizaid said he was perplexed by the failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. He also said a large number of U.S. soldiers will be needed in Iraq "for the foreseeable future."

Abizaid is a 1969 graduate of Coleville High School, where he grew up.

Abizaid's grandparents emigrated to the United States from Lebanon, and his widowed father moved to Coleville from the Bay area in the mid-1960s.

Abizaid received an appointment to West Point, where he graduated in 1973. He led an Army Ranger rifle company during the 1983 invasion of Grenada and later led the 82nd Airborne Division's elite 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment during the Gulf War. Abizaid served as assistant division commander of the 1st Armored Division in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Among his decorations are the Distinguished Service Medal, the Defense Superior Service Medal, the Legion of Merit with five Oak Leaf Clusters and the Bronze Star.

Abizaid inspired a fictional scene in Clint Eastwood's 1986 movie "Heartbreak Ridge," from the fighting in Grenada in which a Ranger sergeant was ordered to commandeer a bulldozer and drive it like a tank toward a Cuban position while other troops advanced behind it.

Franks announced last month that he would retire this summer.


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