WASHINGTON – After receiving his fourth star Monday, Army Gen. John Abizaid became the new U.S. war chief, taking over the leadership of U.S. Central Command from Gen. Tommy Franks (search), who retired after a 36-year-long career in uniform.
Franks oversaw Operation Enduring Freedom (search) in Afghanistan and Operation Iraqi Freedom (search) while at the helm of the U.S. Central Command, which oversees military operations from the Horn of Africa to Central Asia, including Iraq and a large swath of the Middle East.
During the change-of-command ceremony at Central Command headquarters in Tampa, Fla., Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld (search) hailed Frank's long and decorated career as a war commander.
"When war comes, you look for certain special qualities in the people you will be working with," Rumsfeld said, including strength, integrity, honor, energy and humor. "Gen. Tommy Franks embodies those qualities."
Rumsfeld credited Franks with changing the original war plan for ousting Saddam Hussein after the Bush administration took a chance and launched bombs on a location where the deposed leader was expected to be meeting with other Iraqi officials.
Rumsfeld said "Tom Franks is truly a soldier's soldier" with a "deep loyalty to his troops and country."
Franks told the crowd to be sure to remember the 300-some U.S. soldiers who have died during the global war on terror. Those deaths remind us "that freedom isn't free," Franks said.
"The prize we seek at this time in history is a way of life -- it's called freedom, liberty.
"But we will never forget the 3,000 who lost their lives on 9-11-01," he added, his way of reminding everyone what the war on terror is all about.
Franks said U.S. military forces overseas have worked wonders in ousting terrorists from their hiding places and helping those countries pave the way toward democracy.
"Twenty-two months ago, the United States of America and the free world looked into the face of evil … and the world came to recognize America with attitude."
Abizaid (search), Franks' second-in-command at Central Command, was confirmed as the new chief by a Senate voice vote on June 27.
Rumsfeld said he was confident in Abizaid's ability to fill Franks' shoes.
Saying Abizaid exhibits an "extraordinary combination of talent and experience," Rumsfeld called the new U.S. war commander "the leader for the 21st century."
But the defense secretary also warned that the battles and danger are far from over and Abizaid will have a full plate.
"Coalition forces have now removed two terrorist regimes from power … two dangerous battles in a war on terror -- a war which will not be over soon," Rumsfeld said, referring to the Taliban and Saddam's regime. "But the war on terror will go on for some time.
"From the beginning, we've known it would be long and difficult … we will prevail."
Abizaid, a grandson of Lebanese immigrants, speaks fluent Arabic, which he studied at a university in Jordan. He also holds a master's degree in Middle East studies from Harvard and has said he loves the region's people and culture.
Abizaid referred to that background during a news conference at the height of combat in Iraq.
"I'm a soldier and I do my best, but I would say, as a person who has studied the Arab world and loves the Arab world, that the majority of educated Arabs that I talk to know that Saddam Hussein has been a plague on the Arab world and on his own people, and they welcome his removal," Abizaid said March 23.
Before becoming the No. 2 general at Central Command, Abizaid held two top positions for the Joint Chiefs of Staff (search) at the Pentagon.
He also has served as commandant of the military academy at West Point, commander of a battalion providing humanitarian relief in northern Iraq after the 1991 Persian Gulf War and company commander during the 1983 invasion of Grenada.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.