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Army general officers Martin Dempsey, Ricardo Sanchez and Fred Robinson Jr. wait for the signal to march to the center of a palace on Victory Camp that was the scene of the 1st Armored Division change of command ceremony Wednesday. Sanchez, the V Corps general and former division commander, presided over the handing of authority from Robinson to Dempsey.
Army general officers Martin Dempsey, Ricardo Sanchez and Fred Robinson Jr. wait for the signal to march to the center of a palace on Victory Camp that was the scene of the 1st Armored Division change of command ceremony Wednesday. Sanchez, the V Corps general and former division commander, presided over the handing of authority from Robinson to Dempsey. (Kent Harris / S&S)
Army general officers Martin Dempsey, Ricardo Sanchez and Fred Robinson Jr. wait for the signal to march to the center of a palace on Victory Camp that was the scene of the 1st Armored Division change of command ceremony Wednesday. Sanchez, the V Corps general and former division commander, presided over the handing of authority from Robinson to Dempsey.
Army general officers Martin Dempsey, Ricardo Sanchez and Fred Robinson Jr. wait for the signal to march to the center of a palace on Victory Camp that was the scene of the 1st Armored Division change of command ceremony Wednesday. Sanchez, the V Corps general and former division commander, presided over the handing of authority from Robinson to Dempsey. (Kent Harris / S&S)
Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, the top American military commander in Iraq, hands over colors symbolizing command of the 1st Armored Division to Brig. Gen. Martin Dempsey while outgoing commander, Maj. Gen. Fred Robinson Jr., looks on.
Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, the top American military commander in Iraq, hands over colors symbolizing command of the 1st Armored Division to Brig. Gen. Martin Dempsey while outgoing commander, Maj. Gen. Fred Robinson Jr., looks on. (Kent Harris / S&S)

BAGHDAD, Iraq — It’s hard to pinpoint the most unusual element of Wednesday’s 1st Armored Division change-of-command ceremony.

It might be that it was held in one of Saddam Hussein’s former palaces, an ornate construction of marble that would make Howard Hughes envious. Or maybe it was that generals, including the commanders of at least three other Army divisions, were seemingly everywhere. Possibly, it is that the commander relinquishing his job had held it only for about a month.

Whatever the choice, the end result was that the Wiesbaden, Germany-based division, currently deployed to Iraq, emerged with a new commander: Brig. Gen. Martin E. Dempsey.

Dempsey is familiar with the region and the division. His most recent assignment was to lead the effort to modernize the Saudi Arabian national guard, and his ties with the division go back to 1991, when he served as commander of the 4th Battalion, 67th Armor Regiment. Prior to that, he had served in several capacities with the 3rd Armored Division in Germany during 1970s and 1980s.

Now, he’s heading up the 1st AD’s efforts in Iraq.

“Baghdad’s future turns from [Maj. Gen.] Doug Robinson to you,” Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, V Corps commander, told Dempsey during the ceremony.

Sanchez led the division into Iraq before being promoted to his current job. That left the division without a commander and Robinson, then serving as an assistant commander for maneuvers, was promoted to fill the job.

Robinson laughed and nodded his head after the ceremony when asked if his was one of the shortest tenures leading the storied division.

“Unless they got fired,” he said.

Robinson wasn’t fired, though. He’s heading to the Pentagon to take a position in the Army’s operations wing.

He praised the soldiers under his command for their performance in Iraq.

Armored divisions aren’t really designed for peacekeeping, he said, “but it just shows our flexibility, ability to take missions and the soldiers’ and junior leaders’ ability to do whatever they’re asked to do.”

In his remarks, Dempsey expressed happiness to be back with the division and confidence that his soldiers would continue to serve with distinction.

“You are making history and shaping the future of this region,” he said.

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