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Col. Michael E. Haith (Ret.)
Military leader

Col. Michael E. Haith (Ret.)

Colonel Mike Haith (U.S. Army, Retired) currently works for the Army at Ft. Monroe as a Human Dimension Integrator.

Gen. Petraeus: No sugar-coated optimism

Less than two weeks ago, I joined scores of mourners packed the Cadet Chapel at the United States Military Academy to attend the funeral service of Captain Daniel P. Whitten, who was killed in action when his vehicle struck an IED in Zabul Province, Afghanistan, the previous week. Dan Whitten was my son' Mike's best friend and USMA classmate. They were each other's Best Man in their weddings.

Also in attendance was the Commanding General of U.S. Central Command, General David Petraeus, who paused if only briefly from his duties to honor Dan's sacrifice and to offer support to the family of his longtime friend and classmate, Col. George Oliver (USMA 1974), the father of Dan's wife, Starr. His presence at the funeral service showed me once again that loyalty, duty and responsibility are among the bedrock qualities in Gen. Petraeus's character.

While much has been written about General Petraeus's critical role in implementing the "surge" in Iraq in 2007-2008, few have seen this other more human but equally revealing side of his leadership. As he said this month at Princeton University, where he was presented with the university's top honor for graduate alumni, the reality in Afghanistan is, "It's going to be hard . . . It's going to be hard all the time. We're going to have tough losses, but it's a hugely important mission and we have to get on with it." I suspect he had Dan in mind when he made that statement.

I served for General Petraeus in 2004, during the height of the surge, when he was the Commander of Multinational Security Transition Command-Iraq, responsible for developing the Iraqi Security Forces and building ministerial capacity in the Interior and Defense Ministries. I saw Gen. Petraeus almost daily in meetings, briefings and during his frequent battlefield circulation trips, as I executed my responsibilities as advisor to the Iraqi Chief of Training and Education. After I retired in 2005, Gen. Petraeus asked me to return to Iraq to establish an Iraqi Ethics and Leadership center similar to the one I had previously led at West Point, and I couldn't say no -- that's the kind of loyalty he inspires.

In the early days of the surge, Gen. Petraeus's forthright candor with both superiors and subordinates was an important part of the plan's success. He never offered unwarranted or sugar-coated optimism. He signaled from the start that it was going to be a near-run effort and that success was not assured. He had doubts, but he didn't hesitate to execute on the plan in front of him. His honesty -- and action -- in the face of uncertainty won the loyalty of those around him.

As the surge wore on, his success rested on the fact that he led from the front, rigorously analyzed the problems, clearly communicated his intent, built partnerships with the Iraqis and employed a "whole-of-government" approach to the solve some of the most complex and intractable problems any commander has ever faced in war: He leveraged any legitimate method as long as it showed promise. And he would not let go of a problem until it was solved. His ability to process information was evident in his update briefings, when he would often stun a briefer by recalling minute details that were inconsistent with the current information.

Not surprisingly the general's intellectual abilities are matched by his incredible physical stamina. His fiercely competitive physical training sessions with all comers -- especially own his staff -- stems from the traditional belief that to lead successfully in combat you must demonstrate daily to your troops that you are tough enough to endure the hardships of battle. Gen. Petraeus believes this tenet of command applies equally to four-star generals as it does to second lieutenants.

Finally, the general is a gifted listener. I've seen many senior leaders who always seem to be in the transmit mode, pausing only until they detect the next opportunity to talk. General Petraeus has always had an open mind and in each of his tours in Iraq, he has assembled gifted teams of former combat commanders, retired officers, talented junior officers and civilian subject-matter experts. He encouraged them to think unconventionally, then carefully analyzed their assessments and proposals, and, if they promise to achieve results, he implemented them.

In this way he also groomed and developed promising officers on his staff and in the field for future command. His battlefield circulation trips were opportunities to listen to subordinate commanders especially battalion and company commanders to find out what worked and to empower them with the authority to get things done. These trips also allowed him to communicate his intent without the layers of command that often filter and dilute the message.

Many have argued that the surge and Gen. Petraeus's leadership were not the only factors that put Iraq on a path that promised future stability. He would be the first to agree. But it is impossible to imagine that whatever success the U.S. achieves in Iraq could have been accomplished without his leadership. He restored optimism in our efforts, and our military forces can justifiably believe they fought with their honor and pride intact.

Note from On Leadership editor: WATCH Gen. Petraeus interviewed by the Washington Post's David Ignatius:

Segment One: Finding leadership role models in Ulysses Grant and Rudy Giuliani (Transcript of segment one available here.)

Segment Two: On staying strong through 'horrific news' (Transcript of segment two available here.)

By Col. Michael E. Haith (Ret.)

 |  February 23, 2010; 2:44 PM ET
Category:  Wartime Leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
Previous: 'Tigerpology:' Be more like Lance | Next: Transcript: Gen. Petraeus on staying strong through 'horrific news'


Please report offensive comments below.

Karsay is not so bad. "Unlike Bin Laden who wrapped himself around a fanatical religious dogma, Giap & the NVA identified w/a nationalist cause whereas our allies the South VN were corrupted to the core." Bin Laden is decided, Karsay is decided too, what he does is the best of all possible worlds in the current situation. Whether he acts for him of them is an academic question. The U.S. do what they want anyway. What they do in Afghanistan is a spectacle for the U.S. audience, sort of ballet, l'art pour l'art. They praise themselves, see this article. What a beautifull general. So real...

Posted by: uzs106 | February 25, 2010 2:40 AM
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Darwinian evolution is pure stupidity coz you can't defy the basic truth that the word "Selection" is itself derived from intelligence. A toddler has no ability to select because selection by itself is driven by intelligence.

A person who believes in Darwinian evolution is practically an idiot and no idiot can win a war.

Ironically, that is the basic rule of Natural Selection according to Darwin -- that the idiots will self-destruct or become extinct.

One reason why communists and Islamists are tough fighters is because they understood that sexual perversion is destructive and are very strict on that matter.

On the other hand, evolutionists are known to be promiscuous. The Vietnamese locals would hesitate to support the side glorifying perversion and promiscuity.

Posted by: spidermean2 | February 25, 2010 1:06 AM
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Spidermean2, if your mean to argue that we'd have won in Viet Nam if only we'd been willing to ditch Darwin, I'm glad you're not chairman of the joint chiefs.

There are, actually, arguments to be made against Darwin - your existence being one of them.

Posted by: douglaslbarber | February 25, 2010 12:38 AM
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Stupidity is self-destructive and indefensible. All these wars to defend America is useless if stupidity like gay marriages, godless Darwinian evolution, atheism, liberalism is unchecked in our own shores.

Expect that many soldiers will die and the nukes coming to our coasts in the near future.

While soldiers are dying in these wars, the stupidity continues like the recent approval of gay marriages in Maryland.

Soldiers are becoming like pawns paying for the stupidity of others. America must reform first or all these wars will be deemed useless.

After sacrificing thousands of lives and money, the Iraqi parliament is beginning to be filled with anti-American Sadir supporters. Everything was a futile exercise.

It could have been different if the military established toughly the freedom to read the Bible coz in every area where there is ignorance of the Bible, terrorism and dictatorship rules.


Posted by: spidermean2 | February 25, 2010 12:30 AM
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Er, 2'nd Lieutenant.

Posted by: douglaslbarber | February 24, 2010 11:50 PM
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Before embarking on political argument let me pay sincere respect to the unspeakable sacrifice of Capt. Daniel Whitten. I'm also happy to recognize the accomplishments of General Petraeus. In the era during which the USA has asked its men and women in uniform to fight with two arms and one and a half legs tied behind their back, he has been the rare general officer who has achieved good results. That can't be easy.

Now, my comment.

In this article of 869 words there is no mention of anyone lower than the rank of 1'st Lieutenant.

I'd venture to guess that most of the bodies coming through Dover Air Force Base - of men and women who laid down their lives on orders - were ranked lower than 1'st Lieutenant.

I'm curious about this omission.

Posted by: douglaslbarber | February 24, 2010 11:34 PM
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The negative comments about West Point grads are truly offensive and evidence of a very shallow mind. I served 26 years in the Army and served in Iraq. I have nothing but respect for the graduates of West Point and the other military academies as well. The Washington Post should remove these comments.

Posted by: voldenuit123 | February 24, 2010 7:12 PM
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All little info, in case any cares about what really goes on in our millitary

Gen. Petraeus is a no talent plagiarizer how is unfit for command

Posted by: zinjiin6 | February 24, 2010 5:30 PM
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Why doesnt some ask what happpened to those 110,000 AK-47's Petrause was in charge of that got lost. They didnt even record the serial numbers!!

When I served, if you lost your weapon you were brought up on chargers. I guess now you can lose 100,000 plus weapons and still get promoted.

America is a joke and so are our "Leaders"

Posted by: zinjiin6 | February 24, 2010 5:28 PM
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Mike Haith's article on General Petraeus is right on target. Having served with the general in several places, we are lucky to have a man of such talent leading our troops at the highest levels.
For other who wanted to know about Captain Dan Whitten, he too was on his way to becoming a general. His leadership was like that of General Petraeus. He had NO intention of leaving the Army anytime soon. He was doing what he loved, leading soldiers. Dan was remarkable young man and accomplished much in his short life. For those of us who knew him, he made a positive impact on all of us.

Posted by: Professor29 | February 24, 2010 4:16 PM
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Operation Groom:

Leadership, ethics, character, courage, loyalty, duty, legitimacy, and responsibility are all lame excuses for appanage.

Ambitious career pretty boys in uniform are passionately seeking validation, medals, revenue, resources, land, and ptsd benefits in order to maintain their membership in the ruling class.

How many of the dadt homosexual “gun control” world policemen are getting humiliated in the very very dangerous land of allah and losing their delusional entitlements in the presence of poor normal family men?

Effectively export democracy. Send (surge) more stupid sugar social workers and “protection order” cops out of America.

Vive le terror et exploitation of “domestic disturbance” pretty boys in uniform

col. haith, how many phony soldiers and sunshine patriots have you groomed?


Posted by: therapy | February 24, 2010 1:52 PM
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Haith first references "Petraeus's critical role in implementing the 'surge' in Iraq in 2007-2008" and then says he "served for General Petraeus in 2004, during the height of the surge" before retiring in 2005. Is this a typo?

Posted by: lu_ma_ke | February 24, 2010 1:11 PM
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Our vets & past ones have made sacrifices for our nation, does our nation, particularly the Department of Army reciprocates by outsourcing & subsidizing critical Army related function; POL, Ammo resupply, bath & shower points construction & least but not last food services to KBR/Halliburton?
This old Army vet said; lets go back to the old system & let soldiers who are trained in those MOS perform their job.

Posted by: yog2541 | February 24, 2010 11:58 AM
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read the post by KBLIT, he's not mentionning anything about 'getting your ticket punched" while being in a SF job assgt. I tip my hats off to the SF community. He's referring to the officer corps folks who use or misuse their connections to get a plum, consulting job after active duty, doing at the expanse of regular "nonody, no political connection" troops. Petreus is merely on a "horse & pony show" to enhance his career, Petreus couldn't care less about the E4 or E3.

Posted by: yog2541 | February 24, 2010 11:44 AM
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Last Post which I find appropriate for all the vets posting today.

A veteran is someone who, at one point in his life, wrote a blank check made payable to 'The United States of America ' for an amount of 'up to and including their life.'
That is Honor, and there are way too many people in this country who no longer understand it.' “author unknown

Posted by: 1hooah | February 24, 2010 11:40 AM
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Guess I was surprised that the article wasn't a tribute to CPT Whitten as I have read enough about General Petraeus in past few years to fill a large hard drive. For those who were a little disappointed about the lack of info on CPT Whitten, please be sure to click on the related link and then to the eulogy link on that page. Here's bottom line about leadership. In my 24 years of service (five enlisted and 19 commissioned) nearly every officer I served under and with, and for sure th,ose I led understood that we were no better then our troops; understood that we owed them our best, all the time; would not eat and rest before they had, would not ask them to do anything we wouldn't do first; and would willingly lay our lives down for them. I am certain that CPT Dan Wheeler lived that ethos from the day he pinned on his second lieutenant's gold bars. May God bless his soul and that of his soldier, PFC Lovejoy, and comfort his wife, his biological family and the extended West Point and Army family. America is blessed to have a nation that can produce such fine young men and women as we have serving today.

Posted by: army164 | February 24, 2010 10:50 AM
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And so the word spittling or as it is now known 'clintonese.'

Using the most kind analogy thusly if I go ino a maternity ward I have therefore given birth and hence, yes I know, a mother. NOT!~

Posted by: KBlit | February 24, 2010 10:42 AM
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You are correct about the article my apologizes , as for women they cannot be assigned to a combat arms branch however they are attached to a unit, thus getting around the law. Our troops in the sand go out everyday on all kinds of missions from medical, governmental, Intel gathering and combat. All these missions require leaving the security of the wire and they all have/had a great opportunity to meet the enemy. The enemy shoots at you requiring you to shoot back. Thus Combat

Posted by: 1hooah | February 24, 2010 10:22 AM
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Before we start slinging mud and calling each other's mom's names the average WP grad only stays in active service until the end of their required active service agreement.

If a WP grad does stay they are almost certain of retiring as an 0-5. The current selection rate to 0-4 that is major for all Army officers who have not committed a felony is nearly 98%.

The majority of officers who comprise the total officer corps are not WP but from the regular college ranks.

All of this information is available from DOD.

Have a nice day.


Posted by: KBlit | February 24, 2010 10:11 AM
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1 Hooah,
you wrote that the article was about the death of Captain Whitten.
Maybe I read the wrong article.
The one I read was glorifying General Petraeus, who has never served in combat, though he wears a combat badge, and the death of Captain Whitten was just a prop to show what a great guy the General is.

You also wrote that your USMA grad daughter fought 27 months in combat. That is deserving of an article all its own. See, mostly women can serve in the war zone, but not in combat. As an infantryman who never saw combat, I'm not the person to explain the difference to you, but perhaps someone else can.

Posted by: BrianX9 | February 24, 2010 10:09 AM
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As a Viet Nam veteran (E-5) I can speak to some of KBLIT's misinformation and negativism.

This ain't "Nam" and the WP grads serving aren't the officers I served under. First, in essence every cadet at WP since 9/11 has volunteered knowing that they're going into combat. There's no more "in the rear with the gear." Keeping in mind that just about every one of these kids could have gone to college on a full scholarship - instead of the 4 years of WP crap and chickens..t, that's quite a sacrifice. If further proof of a commitment is necessary, how about this: in the 2008 class, graduation cadets were volunteering for an additional service obligation (ASO) just so they could get INTO the infantry!

Forget all that for a minute. After they graduate, WP cadets, now 2LTs, go through the exact same training as their peers that went through a ROTC program. At Ranger, all candidates - enlisted and officer - are just a number - not a name, not a rank. The training is all the same.

Yeah, Band of Brothers has a generation convinced that the "mustang" - the grunt who came up through the ranks, is always the best guy to supervise. That is a rarity in this day and age.

BTW - your comments about SF is off also. First, no officer below the grade of O3 is accepted - WP grad or not. Second - getting your ticket punched? How? Time in grade and time in service requirements still apply to promotion to Major. BTZ promotions are almost nonexistent at that point.

For prior service guys like me, your post speaks as someone disgruntled and bearing a grudge - but posting that in an article about a fallen comrade is inappropriate.

Posted by: evilfrodo | February 24, 2010 9:58 AM
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Just be clear that dear ole KBLIT retired after 26 years doing 3 wars and fighting guys who were more than willing to die. If you and anyone else wants to compare real war stuff and 'junk on the bunk or stuff off the shirt' be happy to obilage

The much discussed COIN manual, Petraeus was supposed to have written in a moment of devine inspiration, was in fact lifted from the guerrilla warfare manuals and studies of the VN era and the USMC Small Wars Manual. Indeed the Army accused Petraeus of balant academic fraud but backed off.

However since America cannot bring itself to go for the win and do the war right and start a draft which includes we need to figure out what we really want to do.
And yes I think that all military officers should be first enlisted and then if it still 'fun' go to an academy.

Posted by: KBlit | February 24, 2010 9:58 AM
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I am a 20 yrs retired Army NCO, served w/the 11th ACR in VN, did 3 tours there. The US did not loose in VN, we just gambled on the wrong horse(Saigon army), the South lost in 75 despite of all the US miltary assistance. Unlike Bin Laden who wrapped himself around a fanatical religious dogma, Giap & the NVA identified w/a nationalist cause whereas our allies the South VN were corrupted to the core.
Alesson for general Petreus in his dealing w/Karzai govt in Kabul.

Posted by: yog2541 | February 24, 2010 9:48 AM
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China will be superpower in 5 years max.

Posted by: MumboJumboo | February 24, 2010 9:48 AM
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Agree with you, the regular vets should get the credit and not the retired officer corps punching their clock at prestigious consulting firms.

Posted by: yog2541 | February 24, 2010 9:40 AM
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Every time I log into the Washington Post and scan the posted public comments on articles about our progress in the Iraq or Afghanistan wars, and the US military leadership and volunteer soldiers who bear the burden of waging those wars, I despair that a majority otherwise intelligent, educated Americans have a clue what kind of warfare we are engaged in.

Comments made by Leszx and Kbit above show they can't comprehend that both wars are Insurgencies, not Conventional made-for-John-Wayne WWII or Korean Conflicts. And that militant Islamic radicals starting with Osama Bin Laden have chosen to wage a 100 Year's war against the West, and in particular the United States. That they deliberately chose the form of protracted war of terrorism, assassination, guerilla tactics, deception, and control of propaganda developed by Mao Tsung as he defeated the Chinese Nationalists by 1949. And that the North Vietnamese used to defeat our political will in Vietnam.

That their aim is wearing down the will to continue to fight by the likes of Americans like Leszx and Kbit, NOT to defeat our forces in the field - which they know they can't. Instead they count on totally compliant US media to report on every IED, every suicide bombing, and NOT report on less visually dramatic progress in changing the political minds of Iraqis or Afghans - which 'news' doesn't get television ratings in the pursuit of advertising dollars.

And so, as in above, the Leszx and Kbits of America spend their time criticizing both our political and military leadership - even to the point of now impugning the motivations of the Generals like Petreaus.

Osama bin Laden has largely won - the hearts and minds of the Leszx and Kbits of America, just as Giap won in 1973. And the Washington Post parades our mental defeat.

Posted by: dave19 | February 24, 2010 9:38 AM
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On a behalf of a grateful nation, we honor & thank for our Vietnam vets who have performed their duty despite of the division & difficulties at home. As a nation, We will never and should never forget our veterans dedication to honor, family & country.

11th CAV black horse regiment!!!!!!!!!!

Posted by: yog2541 | February 24, 2010 9:36 AM
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Having been there etc I can say without much fear of contradiction that in every war where real fighting was being done and the where the prospective of promotion was slim or not on the prescribed path the worst fear you had was the presence of an academy grad. You could always spot the choice assignments as that is where these guys got posted. Years ago any SF assignment beyond getting the 'ticket punched' was done by either enlisted or prior enlisted who were commissioned. Now that Spec Ops is glamorous the academy wonders ares standing in line. After they get the beret and a quickie promotion they move on and the work is still done by the same old guys. Academy grads need to go where they do best in some staff sucking up. Interesting that Hiag say the light and married a generals daughter.
Meanwhile the young still die so someone else get's promoted. I worked for a beltway bandit that refused to give vet's off for Veteran's Day. I quit. It seems that the entire goal of many so called professional officers is to retire and get a beltway job and get rich.

Posted by: KBlit | February 24, 2010 9:25 AM
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"Where have all the flowers gone?"
I served in the Army during the Vietnam
War and was fortunate enough to be
stationed in Germany for two years.
It's extremely bad that we lose
America's best in these hellholes
across the globe. I pray that our
leaders someday will look at history
and be savy enought to keep us out
of these hellholes.!!

Posted by: rramberg | February 24, 2010 9:24 AM
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Let me first express my appreciation for Captain Whitten's service and sacrifice, and my condolences to his family.

The abolition of the draft, the dispensation of the citizen-soldier, the rise of the neo-con elite, the presence of the many families utterly lacking a tradition of service (even those of political luminaries), have all led to a disturbing state of affairs in our country: the notion that military service is for suckers, and that patriotism is to be had in rhetorical pontification.

Let me join poster "yog2541" in celebrating the "young GI nobody's" who serve loyally, even in wars of dubious parentage, even in the face of a self-absolved (and absorbed), indifferent citizenry.

Vietnam vet (1968-1969)

Posted by: tlfamm | February 24, 2010 9:24 AM
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Ideabook, your comment about no West Pointers are offending. My daughter served 27 months in combat, she is a West Pointer. Her and her classmates are out there everyday with the troops, they eat with the troops they fight with the troops and they DIE with the troops. Most West Pointers are "Just average Americans doing their bit" I know I was enlisted for 23 years, no blue blood in my family. These young men and women who attend the academies work hard to be leaders who try and do the right thing. Your generalization of the officer corps is pretty naïve, let me remind you about the article, it is about the death of Capt. Daniel Whitten, 28, of Grimes, Iowa, who was supporting Operation Enduring Freedom. He died along with Pfc. Zachary G. Lovejoy, 20, of Albuquerque, N.M. one was a West Pointer and one was a Private, but they both suffered the same fate along side of each other.
God Bless all our military and God Bless the souls of all our departed warriors from all wars.

Posted by: 1hooah | February 24, 2010 9:22 AM
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What is this "hugely important mission" to which the General refers? Does it have anything at all to do with protecting the security of the United States and its citizens? Or, rather, is it the Mother of All CYA Operations - protecting the idiot politicians who got us into these stupid and unwinnable wars?

Posted by: LeszX | February 24, 2010 8:50 AM
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If you look at the actual, published information the sacrifice (dead and wounded) of this war are borne almost exclusively by those enlisted personnel under the age of 24 who still come from small towns. If Petraeus were not running to be the next Army Chief of Staff or JCS or political office he and the rest of the military leadership would resign in protest to this waste of American's in a lost cause.
No one is questioning the duty and sacrifice that the American military is doing every day but if this war is so critical to America then a draft, mobilization or some type of help but be given by the general public. If not then end this thing.

Posted by: KBlit | February 24, 2010 8:45 AM
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Lets honor those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice but lets also remember President Eisenhower advice before leaving office; our nation needs to aware of the danger posed by a military-industrial complex; Whitney, Bradley & Brown is just one cog in the machine along with thousands of others; KBR,Blackwater(Xe),Triple canopy, the very same military-industrial complex that only look out for its interest at the expense of the nation interest & its veterans. I find very ironic for a former military officer and now manager at consulting firm which has an extensive contract with the Department of Defense, expressing sorrow & grief for a fallen Army soldier, considering the fact that veterans serving our nation honorably on the battlefield in Iraq or Afghanistan are not always on top of the totem pole for such agencies & its subcontractors.

Posted by: yog2541 | February 24, 2010 8:32 AM
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When I read such articles I can't help but think of the young GI's, the nobody's, who I served with in Nam. The draftees with no family connections or money. The ones caught up in the net and who served, not for glory or fame, but because they had to. And they did a good job. The ones who made it went back and forgot it or tried to deal with the fallout. The ones who didn't came home never to fight again. Gone at 20, 22, and so on. To me, those guys were the real heroes. Imagine, going into combat, an Infantryman, and you don't want to be there. Each bit of that salad on Petraeus uniform has it's roots in the blood of those GI's. No West Pointers there. No military blue bloods. Just average Americans doing their bit. And hoping to return home in one piece. That's normal, and what's really great. As I get on in age I find it harder, and more difficult than before, to accept leaders as heroes. Getting men killed is what they end up doing, risking life. I can't rationalize that. Praise should not be their reward, that's just wrong. That should be reserved for the regular GI's.

Posted by: ideabook | February 24, 2010 8:09 AM
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Ethics and Leadership is generally a contradiction in business.
An ethical path can lead to confrontation with leadership.

In my world, I lost faith in my leadership/company when I was told not to attend a funeral.
It was the last time I said yes.

At the time, I considered myself a young Christian.
An incident occured involving my company , in my community. A tragedy.

Services were held,by my church, at the firehouse.
Company leadership directed me not to attend services. A very diffcult choice, Company or Community. I followed the directive.

For the next 2 years, I looked at a "reminder" of that day, sitting in the back corner of the lot.
Wishing I had gone.

Overall , the decision was one decided by legal or so I was told. And evertime I looked at published company policy or opinion supporting "community", family,or ethics,
I just wondered.

Posted by: EarthCraft | February 24, 2010 7:49 AM
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