Gen Ray Odierno, former Army Chief of Staff, Dies at 67

odierno

General Ray Odierno, 67, passed away from cancer on October 8, 2021. He was a former Army Chief of Staff, and was the Commander of US Forces in Iraq. He served from 1976 when he graduated from West Point to 2015. But those are just statistics – many of those who knew him honored him as a military leader who commanded the respect of his troops.

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I was used to sitting on the perimeters of the room while more senior officers briefed flag officers. But he conducted his briefs the way he wanted…senior leaders on the perimeters and the more junior leaders/action officers briefing him directly. I terrified the first time (and quite frankly every time) I sat across the table from him to brief.

He was a tower of a man but so incredibly gracious and patient.

I have many memories of my time in Iraq, but the one that stands out the most was during my last brief with him before redeployment.

I shyly asked if I could get a quick pic with him on my phone on my way out the door. He said, no. “We’re going to do this right.”

So an official picture was taken and then he coined me. I was shocked but so grateful beyond words that I had the opportunity to serve with this powerhouse of a man.

Beth Brady Miller, Lt Col, USAF (ret)
Screenshot via Beth Brady Miller on LinkedIn

Rest in peace, Gen Odierno. You taught us to lead with extreme humility, vulnerability, candor and transparency. Will always be eternally grateful. #RIP#armystrong#RedlegUS ArmyArmy National GuardUnited States Army Reserve

Sean Gilfillan
Screenshot of photo via Sean Gilfillan

General O was a great leader. And a great man. It was the honor of a lifetime to serve as his political adviser in Iraq. I walked with a giant. RIP General Odierno, your spirit lives on in all of us whose lives you shaped

Emma Sky, Director International Leadership at Yale
Screenshot photo via Emma Sky on LinkedIn

The above memories are but a few of them spread across social media.

An imposing figure, at 6-5 and 250 pounds, with a shaved head, Gen. Odierno had an affable nature and developed a strong rapport with his troops. He was considered one of the Army’s most capable battlefield leaders.

He had three tours of duty in Iraq from 2003 to 2010, culminating in his being named the chief commander of all Allied forces in the country. Units of Odierno’s 4th Infantry Division pulled off perhaps the signature moment of the Iraq War when they tracked down and captured Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein on Dec. 13, 2003.

After the heavily bearded and unkempt Hussein was found in an underground bunker in a rural area north of Baghdad, Odierno uttered one of the more memorable comments of the conflict: “He was just caught like a rat. When you’re in the bottom of a hole, you can’t fight back.”…

Despite the high-profile capture of Hussein, Odierno had a mixed record during his first tour in Iraq. Soon after his arrival in the country in 2003, he told those under his command: “I want to make sure you understand my intent: that I want to be lethal. Make them understand, when they come up against us, they’re going to be killed or captured.”

The 4th Infantry Division became known for its rough methods, including breaking down the doors of private homes and grabbing young Iraqi men off the street and delivering them to the notorious Abu Ghraib prison.

Stripes

By his 2nd deployment to Iraq, Gen Odierno softened his approach. Why? It may have had something to do with his own Army officer son, Captain Anthony Odierno losing an arm after a rocket propelled grenade hit the Humvee in which he was riding.

”It didn’t affect me as a military officer, I mean that. It affected me as a person. That drives me, frankly. I feel an obligation to mothers and fathers. Maybe I understand it better because it happened to me.”

Gen Odierno

Odierno went on to become the 38th Army Chief of staff in 2011. He reportedly didn’t believe that soldiers were IN the Army, he believed they WERE the Army. He also honored the fallen, and the wounded up until he died. You can read more of his career at AUSA. His after-service activities you can read at Stripes.

He educated himself and became the very best operational commander we have in conducting irregular warfare.

Gen Jack Keane, Ret

His awards and decorations included four Defense Distinguished Service Medals, two Army Distinguished Service Medals, the Defense Superior Service Medal, six awards of the Legion of Merit and the Bronze Star Medal. He is survived by his wife Linda, three children including his son Capt Anthony Odierno (ret), a sister, and four grandchildren.

Rest in peace, Sir.

*****

Featured photo US Army- public domain

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