United States Central Command, also known as USCENTCOM or simply CENTCOM, was activated in 1983, but its genesis is actually found twenty-one years earlier. In what in hindsight appears to be a highly prescient move, the United States Strike Command (STRICOM) was activated on January 1, 1962 in an effort to unite the Strategic Army Corps and Tactical Air Command into a unified combatant command, complete with Naval and Marine Corps assets (the United States Atlantic Fleet was designated as STRICOM’S naval component command in 1965). The word “prescient” is fitting because STRICOM was activated at MacDill Air Force Base in Florida just nine-and-a-half months before the Cuba Missile Crisis (some sources incorrectly state STRICOM was established in response to the crisis).  

Besides serving as a source of ready forces for other unified commands, STRICOM’s assigned missions included training general reserve forces, developing joint doctrine, and the planning and execution of contingency operations in the Middle East, Africa, and Southern Asia (MEAFSA). When STRICOM was redesignated in 1972 as United States Readiness Command, or REDCOM, its MEAFSA responsibilities were removed.

Following two events that had a significant and lasting impact on American foreign policy and U.S. military preparedness—the fall of the Shah of Iran and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan—the Commander-in-Chief of REDCOM was ordered to establish a subordinate REDCOM command called the Rapid Deployment Joint Task Force (RDJTF) in March, 1980.

A little over a year later, the Department of Defense announced that the RDJTF would be spun off into a separate command from REDCOM, one that would now have a specific geographic Area of Responsibility (AOR). On January 1, 1983, the RDJTF was redesignated the United States Central Command, a Unified Combatant Command with headquarters at MacDill. Four years later, REDCOM was transformed into United States Special Operations Command, or SOCOM.

Today, CENTCOM’s AOR comprises twenty countries with territory extending to Yemen in the south and Kazakhstan in the north. It has without question been the most active of any of the United States’ Unified Combatant Commands, serving as the main military force in the first Gulf War (1991) and in Operations Enduring Freedom, Iraqi Freedom, Resolute Support, and Inherent Resolve.
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