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HEIDELBERG, Germany — Air Force Gen. Joseph Ralston will hand over the reins of the U.S. European Command to Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James L. Jones in an afternoon ceremony Thursday at the command’s Patch Barracks headquarters in Stuttgart.

Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, will preside over the event.

“We anticipate about 450 dignitaries attending this historic ceremony,” said Cmdr. Ike Skelton, a EUCOM spokesman. Skelton said another ceremony will be held in Mons, Belgium, the following day as Jones takes command of NATO.

Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz is among those expected to attend the ceremony in Stuttgart, as well as German local and state officials.

Jones will be the first Marine to hold the Pentagon’s top military post in Europe — a two-hat job, overseeing U.S. forces and the uniformed side of NATO.

With more than 100,000 U.S. troops spread across 93 nations, EUCOM is one of nine joint four-star headquarters, dubbed “combatant commands.”

Jones spent much of his childhood in France and served as the deputy director of operations at EUCOM in the early ’90s. During that time, he helped lead the U.S. military’s initial foray into the Balkans under Operation Provide Promise. He was named the 32nd commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps in 1999.

Jones’ new assignment marks the first time a commandant has moved on to a new position after leading the Corps.

Jones is slated to hand over command of the Marine Corps to Gen. Michael W. Hagee on Monday in Washington, D.C.

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