Lt. Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III assumed command of Multi-National Corps-Iraq during a transfer of authority ceremony at Al Faw Palace Feb. 14

His predecessor, Lt. Gen. Ray Odierno, is scheduled to be the Army's next vice chief of staff.

Gen. David Petraeus, Multi-National Force Iraq commanding general, spoke highly of Odierno's accomplishments and leadership as commander of III Corps and MNC-I. Petraeus said Iraq was a much different place 14 months ago when Odierno first took command.

"The situation was very difficult," Petraeus said. "The bloodshed had reached horrific levels. The very fabric of Iraqi society had been torn."

Petraeus said Odierno and his team had a lot of planning and hard work on their hands, but they stepped up and made some of the toughest decisions the country has ever seen and needed.

"He forthrightly requested additional forces and he and his staff began developing an operation of concept for their employment," Petraeus said.

"His recommendations for what came to be known as the 'surge forces' has since been proven correct. They reflected a mastery of the operational level of war and they explicitly laid out the concepts that have guided our forces over the past year."

Odierno said he was humbled by Petraeus' remarks and for having served among the ranks of others.

"You restored optimism to a country once enslaved by the influence of terrorists and allowed a nation to take control of it's own destiny," Odierno said. "I am humbled to serve in your ranks, and I salute each and every one of you. Thank you for being at my side and for being the Soldiers that you are."

Austin said he looks forward to working alongside the Iraqi security forces, with whom he said they share the same ideals.

"Iraqis, like the Coalition soldiers by their sides, believe that there are ideals and responsibilities that transcend the individual, and they are denying the terrorists the freedom to launch their attacks from their neighborhoods," Austin said.

"Everyday, Iraqis are getting involved with the government." Austin previously served in Iraq from July 2001 to June 2003 as assistant division commander (maneuver) of 3rd Infantry Division (Mechanized).

Other assignments include commander of Combined Joint Task Force 180 during Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan and most recently as chief of staff for United States Central Command before becoming XVIII Airborne Corps commander in December 2006.

Austin said he plans to help the Iraqis promote progress. "We will help the Iraqi government integrate local volunteers into the Iraqi security force and other employment opportunities that will promote progress for this great country," he said.

The Iraqis' evident choice of peace over sectarian violence will be key in continuing to make progress, Austin said. "It is clear that the Iraqi people have a new confidence in tomorrow and in their future," he said. "With will, determination and focus, together we can achieve lasting security and give all Iraqis a future of hope."