Erik Kurilla Nominated as Next CENTCOM Chief

A former classmate is going to be one of the US military's most senior leaders.

PHOTO: SPC. ANDREA NOTTER/U.S. ARMY

WSJ (“White House Nominates Airborne Officer to Lead Central Command, Overseeing Operations in Middle East“):

President Biden has nominated a top Army general to be the next commander of U.S. military operations that include the Middle East as the Biden administration’s attempt to shift towards China has been complicated by the chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan and Iran’s regional and nuclear ambitions.

The administration on Wednesday nominated Army Lt. Gen. Michael Erik Kurilla to lead the military’s Central Command, according to U.S. officials and congressional records. If confirmed by the Senate, Gen. Kurilla would succeed Marine Gen. Frank McKenzie, who has led the command since March 2019 and whose tenure is slated to end April 1. He would be promoted to four-star general.

Gen. Kurilla, a former chief of staff for Central Command who is now the commander of the 18th Airborne Corps, Fort Bragg, N.C., would assume the role as concerns grow that al Qaeda and the Afghanistan branch of Islamic State could re-emerge as a threat to American interests. Other issues in Central Command’s purview include Tehran’s nuclear program and influence in the region and ongoing civil wars in Syria and Yemen.

Erik and I were classmates at West Point from 1984-86. I would imagine we crossed paths at some point but I can’t say for sure. He, of course, went on to graduate. And, while we were both commissioned as Army officers in 1988 (ironically, me a couple of months before him because Jacksonville State has an unusual academic calendar) he, needless to say, went on to a much more successful career.

I’ve been following his career since August of 2016, when he became the commanding general of the 82nd Airborne division. He was, as far as I know, the first two-star general of our year group and selected for arguably the most prestigious division command in the Army. (A few months later, another classmate, Andrew Poppas, would be selected to command the 101st Airborne, the other assignment in the conversation.)

After the requisite two years in command, he went on to serve a little over a year as CENTCOM chief of staff before taking the most prestigious three-star billet, Commanding General of the XVIIIth Airborne Corps, in October 2019. He’s now going to take over what has been the most prestigious combatant command for decades. (Arguably, the Indo-Pacific Command now holds that distinction but it has always been commanded by a Navy admiral, so Kurilla was not in competition for that billet.)

As noted on Twitter, the fact that a job Norman Schwartzkofp held when Kurilla, Poppas, and I were lieutenants officially signals that we’re old. Then again, we’re the same age as Colin Powell, who was Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the time, was when he retired in 1993.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Sleeping Dog says:

    Expect that Rs will oppose the nomination and hold it up for ???????????

    Congratulations Gen. Kurilla

  2. James Joyner says:

    @Sleeping Dog: One never knows these days but I think he’s bulletproof. He would have been confirmed by the Senate both for his 3-star promotion and the XVIIIth Airborne billet.

    1
  3. Jim Brown 32 says:

    Small world. I encountered Gen Kurilla in the Joint world. Engaging and funny…but most importantly extremely insightful. Also has a very strong grasp of technology and China/ Russia’s use of soft/gray zone warfare to undermine the international order.

    Excellent choice.

  4. Mikey says:

    I remember reading about then-LTC Kurilla as a battalion commander in the early days of the Iraq war. Even then he was very highly regarded. No surprise to see him nominated to this post.