Thoughts as I watched my friend Ray Odierno become Army chief of staff

Thoughts as I watched my friend Ray Odierno become Army chief of staff

By Emma Sky
Best Defense roving Middle East correspondent

I took my seat alongside hundreds of others yesterday at Fort Myer for the ceremony to mark the Change of Responsibility from General Dempsey to General Odierno, the new 38th Chief of Staff of the Army.

The Units that paraded before us were reminders of America’s history: the 3rd United States Infantry (The Old Guard), the United States Army Band (Pershing’s Own), the Fife and Drum Corps, the Commander-in-Chief’s Guard, Salute Battery, Continental Color Guard, State and Territorial Flags.

There is no other country in the world where a grandson of an immigrant could rise to the highest level of the military. General Odierno is the American dream. With General Odierno at the helm, I have every confidence that the Army will become smarter, more agile, and fitter to face future threats — while taking significant cuts to its budget. General Odierno has proven himself a versatile commander, leading both the surge of troops into Iraq and also the draw down. There is no one who better understands the Army as an institution or its soldiers as people.

But as we have witnessed since 9/11, America cannot impose its will by force, and how America wields its power determines how it is perceived around the world. There had to be a response to 9/11. Some will argue that we should have treated it as a criminal act, rather than an act of war. The responses would have been different. And many question whether the way in which we went about trying to make ourselves safer did in fact serve to create more enemies.

What I have no doubts about, however, is the extraordinary endeavors of America’s men and women in uniform, who year after year volunteered to serve in war zones, and who went to such efforts to make America safer and to bring stability to the areas in which they operated. Many lost their lives, and many more their limbs. The cost has been great. We get to chose the way we live our lives — but not how we die. And for many soldiers, if they had one day left to live in this world, they would volunteer to spend it out on patrol, with their comrades on their right and on their left, who would be willing to take a bullet for them, and vice versa.

Before 9/11, I had never met an American soldier. Today, at Fort Myers it was wonderful to be back among so many familiar faces, soldiers I served with in Iraq and Afghanistan year after year – soldiers who welcomed me into their tribe and made me feel one of them.

There is no one who understands soldiers better than General Odierno, and the stress this last decade has put on the military and their families. He will ensure that his term as 38th Chief of Staff of the Army marks the transformation of the Army into a leaner but smarter organization, able to defend the nation and to take care of its soldiers.

"First to fight for the right
And to build the Nation’s might
And the Army goes rolling along."

Baroness Sky has served several tours in the Middle East, including one as General Odierno’s political advisor in Iraq during the surge.