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MacDill Welcomes 2 New Leaders for Troubled Centcom Region

U.S. Air Force photo
U.S. Air Force photo

TAMPA -- MacDill Air Force base is getting two new commanders to help lead U.S. military efforts in the Middle East.

Tuesday morning, during a ceremony on base, Marine Lt. Gen. William D. Beydler assumed command of Marine Corps Forces Central Command, which oversees all Marines in the U.S. Central Command region. He replaced Marine Kenneth McKenzie Jr., who is headed to the Joint Chiefs of staff.

Hours later, the Pentagon announced that Army Maj. Gen. Darsie Rogers will replace Army Maj. Gen. Michael Nagata as head of Special Operations Command Central, which oversees commando operations in the Centcom region.

With the advent of the self-proclaimed Islamic State jihadi group, which seized control of much of Syria and Iraq in the summer of 2014, the multi-sided Syrian civil war and the bloodshed in Yemen, it has been a hectic and trying time for both commands.

In February, Marines left Yemen along with the U.S. Embassy staff after Houthi rebels seized the capital.

Beydler, who was also promoted Tuesday morning before the change of command ceremony, will oversee about 3,000 Marines in the Centcom region. That includes a 2,300-person Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force which has its own aircraft. It was created in 2014 to quickly respond to crises in the region. Its members are ready to rescue downed pilots and work at bases in Iraq training security forces.

A Marine aviator with more than 3,000 hours in the F/A-18 Hornet, Beydler served as commander of the II Marine Expeditionary Force before taking command of Marine Corps Forces Central Command, or Marcent.

His new assignment, marking the 21st move for he and his wife, Kim, is a return to Tampa for Beydler. He was at MacDill before as director of strategy, plans and policy at Centcom from 2012 to 2014.

No date has yet been scheduled for the Special Operations Command Central change of command.

Rogers, named as the new Soccent boss, is widely respected as an intellectual leader with a lot of battlefield experience as a Green Beret commander in Iraq.

Rogers is currently a special assistant to U.S. Special Operations Command head Army Gen. Joseph Votel and before that served as commander of the 1st Special Forces Group.

"He is a high-caliber officer," said Mike Repass, a retired Army Special Forces major general now living in Orlando. Repass served as Rogers' commander in Iraq.

Rogers "is exceedingly intelligent, very physically fit and has a tremendous intellectual capacity," said Repass.

In particular, Repass remembers Rogers as an officer who "brings order out of chaos."

As a lieutenant colonel in 2004, Rogers "quickly established his bases of operations and integrated conventional forces into special operations in northern Iraq," said Repass. "We had very tough fighting back then."

Like Rogers, Nagata has a strong reputation among special operations forces.

"As a commander, as person, as special forces officer, Mike Nagata a guy is respected in our community," says retired Army Brig. Gen. Hector Pagan, an Apollo Beach resident who served in a number of Special Operations Forces leadership positions, including command of Special Operations Command South.

Nagata, who he has known "since we were majors" is a "skilled, dedicated and talented officer," said Pagan. "He was the right guy at the right time at the right place. I think he will be promoted to lieutenant general and he deserves to be one."

Nagata became Soccent's commander in 2013. In February, he was chosen also to lead the U.S. mission to train and equip vetted Syrian rebels, a half-billion dollar effort that was shifted earlier this month in favor of moves including arming existing groups with vetted leaders to fight Islamic State.

By the middle of this month, about $384 million of the $500 million authorized for the train and equip mission had been spent on a program that returned few Syrians to the fight.

One retired Green Beret familiar with that part of the world said the blame doesn't fall on Nagata. The mission was doomed from the start.

"The recent setbacks in Syria are a direct result of a continued failed strategy by the administration," said Patrick Morrison, a retired Army Green Beret lieutenant colonel now living in the Tampa area who helped train Iraqi special forces. "The rules of engagement being placed by the administration have prevented Special Operations Forces from doing their job. When Special Forces are not allowed to go in with the guys they trained and equipped it will fail."

Earlier this month, Defense Secretary Ash Carter announced he is combining all the military's anti-Islamic State efforts in both Iraq and Syria under the command of one man, Army Lt. Gen. Sean MacFarland..

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