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WASHINGTON — Gen. James Conway officially became the 34th Marine Corps Commandant on Monday at a ceremony at the Marine Corps Barracks here.

He replaces Gen. Michael Hagee, who is retiring from the Marine Corps, officials said.

Conway commanded the I Marine Expeditionary Force during two combat tours in Iraq and most recently served on the Joint Staff, which assists the Joint Chiefs of Staff in accomplishing its tasks.

Much of Monday’s ceremony was dedicated to paying tribute to Hagee.

Speaking at the ceremony, outgoing Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said that under Hagee’s watch, the Marine Corps had become “the best-trained, the best-led and the best-equipped force in history.”

Rumsfeld praised Hagee for leading the Marine Corps through some of its most difficult missions, such as the battle of Fallujah and ongoing efforts to take control in Ramadi.

Hagee’s tenure has seen highs and lows for the Marine Corps.

In the past four years, Marines have aided in emergency relief efforts around the world, including in the Gulf states following Hurricane Katrina. They also defeated five Iraqi divisions during the drive to Baghdad and redeployment to Anbar province, Hagee said.

But toward the end of Hagee’s time as commandant, authorities launched investigations into allegations that Marines wrongfully killed 25 Iraqi civilians at Haditha and Hamandiyah. The allegations prompted Hagee to launch a worldwide tour to talk to Marines about Corps values.

On Monday, Hagee praised the Marines, whom he said are willing to die, “because they realize there is something more important than themselves.”

Rumsfeld also gave high praise to Marines, saying that it was clear from the Marines assembled at Monday’s ceremony that “heroes are not in short supply.”

“We can say with pride that many of this nation’s greatest young people are those who proudly wear the eagle, the globe and the anchor,” he said.

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