Drawing a parallel to the first group of U.S. Marines who arrived in New Orleans aboard the USS Rattletrap more than two centuries ago, Lt. Gen. Richard Mills said Wednesday he wasted no time paying tribute to his new hometown.
“The car I drove down here, my sons tell me, bears the same name,” Mills, 63, said, drawing laughter from about 200 service members and elected officials who gathered outside the Joseph J. McCarthy building in Algiers for a ceremony to mark his taking control of the Marine Forces North and Marine Forces Reserve, the corps’ largest command.
Mills is in charge of all of the Marine Reserves, which includes more than 100,000 members scattered across the country.
About 30,000 of them commit to training one weekend a month and a couple of weeks a year. Mills, a 38-year Marine veteran, is a three-star general, one of only two stationed in Louisiana.
He was head of the Marine Corps Combat Development Command in Virginia before starting his new assignment.
Much of the hourlong ceremony was dominated by military customs and traditions, with officers shouting back out that members of the command were “present or accounted for.”
Mills gave a brief address, turned to face members of his staff, and behind them, members of four subordinate commands. “It is my job to do battle with you and for you,” he told the group.
In July, Sgt. Maj. Anthony Spadaro was appointed the Marine Forces Reserve’s highest-ranking enlisted officer.
Members of the commands walked past the two men so they could, ceremoniously, inspect them.
The New Orleans branch of the Marine Corps Band opened the ceremony with “God Bless America” before shifting gears to more home-grown material, including “When the Saints Go Marching In.”
Loud applause from the crowd led the band into their next song, “Voodoo Groove,” as many in the audience clapped to the beat.
Standing on the lawn beneath the hot sun, Mills recalled how Spadaro had earlier suggested his own take on the ceremony.
“I have an idea,” Mills remembered. “Why don’t you have a band concert and just tack on the change of command at the end?”
Mills succeeded Lt. Gen. Steven Hummer, who in June began a new post in Germany after 22 months in New Orleans.
In the meantime, Mills may soon get permission to ditch his old rattletrap.
“She promised me next year I could buy a new car,” he said of his wife of 38 years.