JOINT BASE BALAD, Iraq - The 13th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary) took command and control of all logistics operations in the Iraqi theater from the 3rd Sustainment Command (Expeditionary) in a ceremony here August 7.

The ceremony officially marked the end of a 15 month deployment in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom for the 3d ESC, based out of Fort Knox, Ky.

During its deployment, the 3d ESC headquarters oversaw five sustainment brigades, which included roughly 17,000 Soldiers, Sailors, and Airmen and provided logistical support more than 300,000 Soldiers and civilians in theater.

"Today we say goodbye to Iraq," said Brig. Gen. Michael J. Lally, commanding general, 3rd ESC, during the unit's Transfer of Authority Ceremony. "The accomplishments of this command were built on the backs and strong hands of its Soldiers. For that, you have my thanks."

The 3d ESC headquarters is one of the last units to complete a 15 month deployment, rather then the standard 12 month tour.

"This last 15 months, the 3d ESC has been historic and heroic. It has been difficult for the Soldiers," said, Lt. Gen. Charles H. Jacoby, commanding general, MNC-I, "But we should remember it's the Families who shouldered the load at home and for that we are grateful."

As dictated by its history, the Fort Hood based 13th ESC will take control during a very difficult and challenging time for US forces in Iraq.

During OIF II, the 13th ESC was in the center of the Sunni Triangle during the volatile Sunni Uprising. For OIF 06-08, the 13th ESC helped engineer the Surge implemented by then Multi-National Forces - Iraq commander, Gen. David H. Petraeus. Now, the 13th will oversee yet another overhaul in operations here.

"(MNC-I) will require from your command some remarkable planning, rapid adaptability, and herculean effort as we embark on the largest strategic reposturing of forces in 40 years."

The most recent drawdown of this scale was the US withdrawal from Vietnam during which the U.S. went from 553,000 boots on the ground in 1968 to zero by April 30, 1975.

The complete handover of security duties to Iraqi forces in late June 2009 was the first step in the long drawdown process, scheduled to be completed by 2011.

"I think sometimes you have to give up some tactical risk for strategic gain and I think this is the case," Gen. Raymond Odierno, commander, MNF-I, said of the security handover in a July 30 CBS interview. "There might be still some little bit of tactical risk in some place but I believe it is well worth it for the strategic gain."

As the higher headquarters for all logistics operations in Iraq, the 13th will play an integral role in the strategic scale-back of forces over the coming months.

"As we continue to provide support to our Iraqi partners, the 13th's focus will shift to the coordination, synchronization, and execution of (the drawdown)," said Brig. Gen. Paul L. Wentz, commanding general, 13th ESC. "This is a mission that requires tactical patience and technical diligence. It will be a marathon, not a sprint."

The next goal in the process is just more than 11 months from now, when U.S. forces in Iraq will shrink from the current 130,000 boots on ground to less than 50,000.

"Our entire effort of Operation Iraqi Freedom has depended on our ability to execute world-class logistics and the future of our efforts here will continue to depend on that," said Jacoby. "To put it simply: We're counting on you."