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FORT BENNING, Ga. " The U.S. Army Infantry School commandant said goodbye to Fort Benning on Wednesday.

Military and civilian leaders " past and present " honored Brig. Gen. Bryan Owens during a command retreat ceremony at the Benning Conference Center. He departs for southern Iraq to assist with the country’s transition back to Iraqi security forces control. The Army hasn’t announced a replacement.

“What a journey this has been,” Owens said of his two years at Fort Benning, where he arrived in May 2009 as deputy commander and assistant commandant of the now-defunct U.S. Army Infantry Center but wound up the chief of Infantry as Maneuver Center of Excellence transformation took shape.

Maj. Gen. Robert Brown, the MCoE and Fort Benning commanding general, called Wednesday a “bittersweet occasion.”

“It’s a very difficult day as we say God’s speed to Bryan as he heads out for his service in Iraq,” he said. “He was specially selected for this very tough mission. … He’ll allow the division that’s over there to essentially get out of Iraq as smooth as possible without having to worry about the transition there.

“They’ve got the right guy to do it who’s got great experience. It’s getting across the goal line there to victory in Iraq and it can’t be any more important.”

This will mark Owens’ sixth deployment overall and third to Iraq. The 28-year officer served under three commanding generals here and became the Infantry School commandant in October 2009 when the MCoE was activated.

“It’s an understatement to say we’ve been through a period of transition,” he joked.

Before arriving on post last fall, Brown said he got the “scoop” on Owens from others around the Army.

“Lots of folks told me about this ‘superstar’ Infantry commandant who’s done so much. Special leader,” he said. “They were spot on. … He’s really a great example of a hardworking, dedicated leader.”

Owens deflected the praise toward his Infantry School team and the support he received across the installation.

“It’s not about me,” he said. “It’s been our professional Soldiers, the dedication of our civilians and the support of our community. That’s what got us through this. … We couldn’t have accomplished what we have without the tireless support of those in this room today.”

As commandant, Owens was responsible for all levels of Infantry training in the Army.

“He’s had a huge impact on the deployed force,” Brown said. “Many of the things that are being used by Soldiers now hadn’t been used until his arrival " not just the new equipment but the leadership you see today in Afghanistan and Iraq.”

Fort Benning tackles a “very complex mission … and certainly not an easy one,” Owens said.

“Thanks for taking care of our great Soldiers and their families, along with all those who attend our training,” he told the audience. “You have touched over 50 percent of the Army in their preparation for combat. … And without question, we truly have the best instructors in the world.”

Owens was commissioned as an Infantry second lieutenant through the ROTC program at Indiana (Pa.) University, where he was a distinguished military graduate in 1983. He’s commanded Airborne Infantry units at the company, battalion and brigade levels and deployed for operations Just Cause in Panama, Desert Shield and Desert Storm during the Gulf War, and Joint Guardian in Kosovo. The general also took part in 2005 military relief efforts along the Gulf Coast following hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

From September 2006 to November 2007, Owens was commander of the 82nd Airborne Division’s 3rd Brigade Combat Team during a 15-month deployment to Tikrit, Iraq. The task force lost 70 Soldiers, and another 391 were seriously wounded.

At the departure ceremony, Owens was presented an M1 Garand rifle. His wife, Jen, received an Outstanding Civilian Service Medal. She and their three daughters will remain at Fort Benning while he’s deployed.

Owens said he’d miss the “incredible” bond between Fort Benning and the tricommunity.

“You continue to set the example of a community that embraces its Soldiers and their families,” he said. “Thank you for making the past two years more than just an Army assignment for us.”