PAUL DE LA GARZA
Defense Secretary Rumsfeld will be among the VIPs as Franks turns over command to Abizaid.
TAMPA - The U.S. Central Command has scheduled a change-of-command ceremony at the St. Pete Times Forum on July 7.
Gen. Tommy Franks, the CentCom commander, is expected to hand over the reins to his deputy, Lt. Gen. John Abizaid. The Pentagon nominated Abizaid to replace Franks this week.
The appointment of Abizaid, an Arabic-speaking Army general of Lebanese descent, is subject to Senate confirmation.
Maj. Mike Escudie, a CentCom spokesman, said Friday a planning committee had been established to coordinate the event, which is expected to draw scores of VIPs, including Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.
On Friday, base personnel complained that passes and leaves had been canceled for the Fourth of July weekend to have drivers and escorts for the VIPs. Escudie said he knew nothing about that.
Though stepping down as CentCom commander, Franks, who ran the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, will not immediately leave the Army.
CentCom officials had said earlier that Franks would use up vacation and personal time before retiring, probably in the fall.
Like other prominent generals, Franks is expected to write a book and hit the lucrative lecture circuit. He and his wife, Cathy, have been looking at property on Davis Islands.
Because of CentCom's crucial role in the war on terror, the ceremony is expected to attract international coverage.
"It is going to be a relinquishing of command," Escudie said. "Our planning for this ceremony is ongoing."
If confirmed, which is expected, Abizaid will take over a region in the thick of the war on terror. CentCom's area of responsibility ranges from the Horn of Africa to Central Asia, including Iraq and a large swath of the Middle East.
Abizaid has a master's degree in Middle East studies from Harvard. In addition to high-level posts at the Pentagon working for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, he also has served as commandant of the military academy at West Point.
After the 1991 Persian Gulf War, Abizaid was commander of a battalion providing humanitarian relief in northern Iraq. He was a company commander during the 1983 invasion of Grenada.
- Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.