On a sunny parade ground at Fort Myer, near Washington, D.C., Gen. David Petraeus’ storied 37-year Army career came to a close today.
“I have been privileged to serve in the arena together with America’s finest, its men and women in uniform, as well as with its finest diplomats and civilian officials and innumerable coalition partners,” Petraeus told an audience of officials, colleagues, classmates and friends as honor guards from the Army, Marines, Navy, Air Force and Coast Guard looked on.
The man who literally wrote the book on how America fights its wars left his post as the head of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan in July to become director of the Central Intelligence Agency next month.
That book, “The U.S. Army/Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual,” was the cornerstone of the strategy Petraeus followed in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and has been credited with turning around the situation in both theaters of war. The book even became a best seller.
“Only Dave Petraeus could take a military manual and make it a great stocking stuffer,” said Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in his tribute to the outgoing general.
Mullen praised Petraeus as “the gold standard for wartime command in the modern era” and likened his leadership to such military giants as Grant, Pershing, Marshall and Eisenhower as “one of the great battle captains of American history.”
Mullen’s tribute, however, may have gone a bit too far. He told the audience that Petraeus graduated at the top of his class at West Point, yet according to a biography written by Greg Jaffe, Petraeus ranked 43rd in his year.
Deputy Secretary of Defense Bill Lynn heaped on the praise.
“No one has played a more important role leading this new generation on the battlefield than the man who stands before us today,” he said.
At a ceremony filled with the pomp and circumstance befitting a four star general, Petraeus dedicated the bulk of his remarks to thanking everyone who’d helped him along in his career, from his wife Holly to the soldiers he served with.
Many of Petraeus’ classmates from the West Point class of 1974 were on hand for the ceremony. Before it began they huddled together to cheer for “Peaches! Peaches! Peaches,” which was Petraeus’ childhood nickname.
Petraeus did offer one final piece of advice before taking off the uniform for the last time: a blunt warning about major cuts to military spending.
“As our nation contemplates difficult budget decisions, I know that our leaders will remember that our people, our men and women in uniform, are our military, and that taking care of them and their families must be our paramount objective,” he said.
“We have relearned since 9/11 the timeless lesson that we don’t always get to fight the wars for which we are most prepared or most inclined. Given that reality, we will need to maintain the full-spectrum capability that we have developed over this last decade of conflict in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere,” Petraeus said.