We were a little nervous when we first met General Raymond Odierno, because we knew he wasn’t thrilled with our assignment. General David Petraeus had recruited us for an unusual position: We were supposed to report directly to him, as mere captains, with nobody in between. General Odierno was supposed to be “in between” for every American in uniform in Iraq. In an incredibly difficult war, it was his responsibility to keep us all safe.
So we walked in to meet this towering man in his spacious office at Al Faw Palace in Baghdad, quite frankly expecting a dressing down.
We found him to be a gentle giant who was soft-spoken, down-to-earth, thoughtful and serious. General Odierno shared his thoughts and expectations with us. While it was not lost on us that he didn’t like being ultimately responsible for keeping two Marines who didn’t report to him safe, he appreciated our service, and we appreciated his.
Years later, when he would testify on Capitol Hill as Army Chief of Staff, one of us was in Congress, and would share a discreet joke with him at the opening of questions that perhaps our relationship got off on the wrong foot. But it couldn’t have gone better, and our respect for him carries through to this day. We were fortunate to have him looking out for us and everyone else in Iraq during the height of the insurgency.
This month, America lost a great general, an accomplished leader and a valuable public servant. It also lost someone the troops could trust as a man who had our backs.
Washington was fortunate to have General Odierno looking after all of us. And we who knew him will never forget what an example he set of service to our country.