The Warrior’s Sabbatical

BY Herschel Smith
8 years, 7 months ago

Robert Burns reports on senior command changes occurring in Iraq.

The U.S. military in Iraq is undergoing its biggest changeover in senior commanders since Gen. David Petraeus launched a new counterinsurgency strategy nearly a year ago.

The high-level shifts come at a particularly delicate stage in the war as U.S. troop levels begin to decline, Iraqis are handed more security responsibility and Petraeus seeks to ensure that the gains achieved over the past several months continue.

The leadership changes are likely to be disruptive, at least for a brief period, as the new set of commanders — even those with Iraq experience — adjust to rapidly changing conditions.

Read the post at the Small Wars Journal Blog for a rundown of all of the changes coming to the U.S. command in Iraq.  Burns continues with a spot-on comment concerning Lt. Gen. Ray Odierno (actually, the comment comes from Frederick Kagan).

Topping the list of departures is Petraeus’ second-in-command, Army Lt. Gen. Ray Odierno, who is due to leave in February when the 3rd Corps finishes its command tour and returns to Fort Hood, Texas. He will be replaced by Lt. Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III, commander of 18th Airborne Corps, from Fort Bragg, N.C.

“He’s really done an amazing job with this counterinsurgency,” said Frederick Kagan, a military historian at the American Enterprise Institute, referring to Odierno. “He has it all at his fingertips, and there is no way that anyone could come in and immediately be functioning at that level.”

I have responded to the SWJ Blog with the following comment (for those readers who do not frequent both web sites).

This command change is is a major announcement. There was a recent discussion thread at the Small Wars Council concerning what exactly has changed in 2007 (Steve Metz and Col. Gian Gentile participated, among others). To quickly summarize my views, the answer may be that little changed. The surge was a continuation of the same things that we had been doing. Warfare has its ebb and flow, and society has a large inertia, as does momentum in warfare. The year 2007 might very well have reaped many benefits from doing the things that the Army and Marines do so well, although it may not have looked like it at the time. This isn’t to diminish the contributions of Petraeus or any other strategic modifications of adaptations, nor his powerful leadership, but merely to point out that the predecessors to the class of 2007 conducted intensive operations as well. I think that this is Col. Gentile’s point. Whatever the real reason(s) for the turnaround, this isn’t a debate I wish to have in the context of this comment. I want to focus on the commanders of the class of 2007.

If for no other reason than I have closely followed the class of 2007 commanders and know much about them, I feel that there is something special about this class. I will take two commanders as examples. Major General Walter Gaskin recently reported that attacks against Iraqi and U.S. troops in Anbar had decreased from 460 a week a year ago to 40 per week now.

Gains in Anbar Permanent

This is a decrease of an order of magnitude. A more astonishing turnaround I cannot imagine. One of Gaskin’s accomplishments, as best as I can determine, is to take very good people – e.g., Col. Simcock, Lt. Col. Bill Mullen in the East (now Col.), Lt. Col. Jason Bohm in the West, and others – and give them latitude, tools, and manpower. In short, he empowered them. But isn’t this what good leaders do?

Next I will turn to Lt. General Ray Odierno. Not only has he served with distinction, but he and I see eye to eye concerning the use of the concerned citizens program across Iraq. No, I am not naive concerning the fact that this provided a window of opportunity, and final political solutions must come from within Iraq itself. But this was the best solution given the circumstances. Further, he lead the effort with his troops while his son had lost an arm to the campaign in Iraq. Whatever else one might think of the campaign or its justification, Ray Odierno is a father with a son who lost a limb. No, I am not trying to stupidly stare or gape. Ray Odierno’s son is a still proud warrior. I bring this up to say that I hold Odierno (and of course his son) – literally – in heroic proportions. I continue to be in awe of him.

As for the class of 2007, I hope and pray that you enjoy your rest, however short it may be. It is a well-earned rest – a warrior’s sabbatical. Godspeed to your rest.

The Warrior’s sabbatical, indeed.

  • jordan

    I had no idea about Odierno’s son.

    When military leaders in Iraq give their press interviews, you can often see the weight they’re carrying in their eyes. You often even see just the slightest touch of aggravation (which makes the questioners more careful and wary.) However, I never saw a trace of ill-humour in his interviews.

    Although I’m a fan of the slightly irritable Colonels and Generals who look ready to dress down the next flakey reporter, Odierno’s good-natured delivery now seems even more remarkable.

  • LT Nixon

    There was an interesting press conference with Maj. Gen. Hertling and Maj Gen. Bergner today (transcript should be available at the MNF-I website sooner or later) and he talked in-depth about the Concerned Local Citizens program. Mostly how they were able to set up these neighborhood watch programs once Al-Qaeda got kicked out of rural areas. These guys were able to show them where all the caches were and allowed security to be maintained in the towns/villages once the area was cleared by coalition forces. The Iraqis standing up for themselves is the only way that the surge will be effective in the long-run.

You are currently reading "The Warrior’s Sabbatical", entry #836 on The Captain's Journal.

This article is filed under the category(s) Iraq,Sabbatical and was published December 19th, 2007 by Herschel Smith.

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