Wednesday, June 30, 2010

General Petraeus: An Extraordinary Hero

I was speaking with a friend of mine at work a few days back about current events, and the talk came around to the future commander of forces in Afghanistan, General David Petraeus.   I believe we were marveling at seeing him in his dress uniform with enough ribbons to make even Patton go, “damn!” 
     Well, almost everyone that watches TV can see that… that is a big “duh”.  Now, I will tell you that I am active-duty military. I won’t say what branch or rank, because (a) that is really irrelevant to the purpose and spirit of this blog, and (b) I don’t want you to think I am a kiss-ass by building him up.  So I already knew a little bit about his service.   And I heard a couple of things about him on Fox News that by themselves would have been incredible by themselves for an average person.  But if Gen. Petraeus  were an average person, then I wouldn’t be wasting your time trying to enlighten you about awesome he is.  He is absolutely, without a doubt, more than qualified to be the boss in Afghanistan.   Now, if you want to skip my commentary you can go to his bio on Wikipedia.  But I will attempt to give you the “what” and the “why it matters”. 
     First, Gen. Petraeus has served honorably for 37 years, and obviously you don’t make it to four-star level and serve that long by accident.  For the gentle readers whom may not be aware, they don’t hand out four stars to just any general officer because it is time for them to have it.  No general has achieved five stars since, oh, Omar Bradley back in the Second World War.  So obviously becoming a full General in any branch of service is the pinnacle of an officers’ career.  OK, big deal right?
     Here's a few of the more notable achievements and events during this 37-year career.  General Petraeus’ career began in light Infantry, and he spent many years in that field with the 101st and 82nd Airborne Divisions.  In 1991, he was accidentally shot in the chest by one of his troops during a life-fire exercise.  He was evacuated to Vanderbilt hospital, where he was operated on by (coincidentally) future Senator Bill Frist.  After a few days in the hospital, he did 50 push-ups to convince the staff to release him early, so he could return to duty.  As a brigade commander (a full Colonel), he and his brigade were chronicled in a book by Tom Clancy during a training rotation at the Joint Readiness Training Center.  You’re probably not going to be written about by Tom Clancy unless you’re pretty damn good at your job.  Later he commanded the “Screaming Eagles” of the 101st Airborne Division during the initial attack into Iraq in 2003.  The division’s achievements and his command were the subject of another book,  In the Company of Soldiers. 
     As the division’s commander after the fall of Saddam’s Iraqi army and government, he and his command orchestrated successful counterinsurgency operations and over 4,500 reconstruction projects.  This is basically the foundation of all future counterinsurgency doctrine as the military knows it.  How important was his role in this doctrine?  Well, at its genesis, it was called the Petraeus Doctrine.  Also, he basically WROTE the Army’s future field manual on COIN operations, now known as Field Manual (FM) 3-24.  Gen. Petraeus commanded the now-famous “surge” of Operation Iraqi Freedom, which despite much initial skepticism, was very successful.  The surge may not have been his idea, but he was damn sure in command of it.  He personally visited several HUNDRED bases, outposts and other remote locations to put his proverbial eyes on the ground for himself to ensure its progress and success.  All of these accomplishments have culminated thus far in his current command of US Central Command (CENTCOM), and directing operations Iraqi Freedom AND Enduring Freedom. 
     Gen. Petraeus seems to have achieved "rock star" status.  He's been interviewed (without incident, thankfully) by almost every magazine and major TV network- Newsweek, Time, Vanity Fair, GQ, Esquire, all the major newspapers, the BBC, CNN, etc. etc.  There are a lot of other four-star generals in the Army, but he is one of the very few whom almost everyone in this country (and several others, no doubt) knows by name. 
     As the good general’s uniform can demonstrate, he has indeed, to use a tired cliché, “been there and done that", and has a whole box of t-shirts to prove it.  Just glancing at his awards, he has earned (not, as journalists like to say incorrectly, “won”) every possible personal award possible during his service except for two… the Congressional Medal of Honor and the Silver Star.  General Petraeus has almost five years’ experience in Iraq alone.  His Wikipedia bio lists an entire paragraph of civilian awards, fellowships, and distinguished recognition from all sorts of academia.  He holds a Doctorate in International Affairs from Princeton University.  Further, he was recognized by Esquire in December 2008 as “Leader of the Year”, and Time magazine named him the 16th “Most Powerful Person in the World”.  Just to name a few.  
     General Petraeus is a LEADER in every sense of the word.  He gets on the ground, leads from the front, makes things happen, picks the best and brightest to work for him, and they want to work for him.  On two occasions during my time in Iraq (2008-2009), he visited our area. He had of course a sizable entourage.  Despite this, he met with the troops, joked with us, shook hands, and gave out coins.  He is in my opinion a down-to-earth, genuine, personable commander.  Yet, his mere presence commands respect.  To say he knows his stuff and is a great leader is like saying “yeah, the Yankees are a pretty good baseball organization”, or “yeah, the Titanic was a shipwreck.”  Hyperbole and platitudes just don’t suffice.  Why?           
     Well, did I mention he drove on at his post at CENTCOM last year while battling PROSTATE CANCER?  Yeah.  AND, he kept it under wraps until last October, long after finishing two months of radiation treatment, because he DIDN’T WANT IT TO INTERFERE WITH HIS DUTIES.  Let that sink in for a moment.
      I find it stunning that this great American is going to endure a confirmation process by Congress for a job that is technically a step down from his current job, by some folks that can’t even make it to work to vote on a damn bill.  Yet, he has CANCER and keeps it a secret because he WANTS TO KEEP WORKING. Now, I can tell you as a cancer survivor myself, just being told “you have cancer” can bring even the most strong-willed person to their knees.  Several weeks of radiation therapy for it is something that is not to be played with.  Trying to recover from the treatment (something I am dealing with a year later) is a draining, grueling ordeal. After 36 years of dedicated, stellar service to the world, if he had said “enough is enough”, no one could ever fault him.  A tour in Bosnia, numerous combat tours in Iraq, and all of the accolades and achievements of several general officers combined would be a zenith for any commander.
    Yet his unparalleled dedication to the mission, to the Army, and to his country given all of this is why I say he is an extraordinary hero.  To simply say he is a hero would be unfitting.  I don’t want to use the phrase “superhero”, because that sounds almost mocking in putting him in a category of fictional characters like Superman or Aquaman.  He is neither that, nor a sandwich.  I would contend that during his confirmation, he could simply keep his mouth shut in front of the so-called “leaders” that might question his ability and hold up a copy of his resume.  Then they should simply file by, shake his hand, and thank him for everything he has done and will do serving this great nation. 
There have been rumors in the “mainstream” media he could be interested in becoming President.  I don’t buy it.  If he wanted to, I am sure he could.  He assuredly would not stand up on a stage, preen and brag about all of his accomplishments like John Kerry did in 2004.  Mister “look at me, I have three Purple Hearts, I was in Vietnam for a few months” Kerry isn’t qualified to carry Gen. Petraeus’ garbage to the curb.  Gen. Petraeus walks the walk, and doesn’t have to brag about it.  That is what makes someone a leader, and an extraordinary hero.