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Gen. David M. Rodriguez said goodbye Friday to Forces Command after 18 months as Fort Bragg's first four-star general.
"You never leave North Carolina or Fort Bragg," Rodriguez said after relinquishing command. "That's a good thing for all of us."
Rodriguez and his wife, Ginny, have a daughter, Amy, who is studying at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill to be a physician assistant. Another daughter, Melissa, teaches kindergarten in Raleigh. Their son, Andrew, finished Ranger school and is getting ready for Airborne school.
"We have enjoyed continuing old friendships and establishing new ones," Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez, a former commander of Fort Bragg's 82nd Airborne Division, will become commander of U.S. Africa Command, which has headquarters in Germany.
Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, the Army chief of staff, hailed him as a "visionary, common-sense leader." Rodriguez and Odierno graduated from West Point in 1976,
Rodriguez has laid out a vision for the Army of 2020 and led the effort to match Army units with geographic regions of the world, Odierno said.
"We want him to lead in the most important jobs that our U.S. military has," Odierno said. "That's to be a combatant commander. There's no better individual to pick."
Forces Command, the Army's largest, has a $3.5 billion budget.
The command oversees the training and preparedness of more than 800,000 soldiers of the active Army and Army National Guard for worldwide deployment. Rodriguez took command in September 2011, shortly after the headquarters moved to Fort Bragg from Atlanta as part of the 2005 base realignment.
"These, as you know, are tough times," said Odierno, who has testified numerous times to Congress about the impact of federal budget cuts. "The thing I tell everyone is that at the end of this I guarantee you that we will remain the best Army in the world."
The outdoor ceremony took place under clear blue skies in front of Marshall Hall, the five-story brick headquarters for Forces Command and Reserve Command.
The Army Ground Forces Band performed, and the Army chief of staff received a 19-gun howitzer salute.
No permanent successor to Rodriguez has been announced.
Lt. Gen. Burke Garrett, the deputy commander, will serve as acting commander until a replacement is named, approved and on the job.
"Burke has been solid, keeping us informed, understanding the importance of what we are trying to do, and fully supporting everything we do," Odierno said. "So I have no qualms about him running this organization, no matter how long it is."
Garrett was Odierno's chief of staff in Iraq for several months.
During the ceremony, Rodriguez received the Distinguished Service Medal "for exceptionally meritorious service in a position of great responsibility" as Forscom commander.
Mrs. Rodriguez received the Secretary of the Army Award for Public Service.