We celebrate today the storied career of one of America’s finest soldiers, General David Petraeus.
General Petraeus and I have a lot in common. We both hold graduate degrees from the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton. Each of us worked at the Pentagon in the 1990s. General Petraeus follows five mile runs with rounds of push-ups and pull-ups. I too am known for my athletic endurance. I follow hours of watching football with repeated rounds of Sports Center.
General Petraeus began his career in the shadow of Vietnam, but he will be remembered most for his leadership in the decade following 9/11.
In a little over a week, we will mark the tenth anniversary of that decisive moment in American history. We will remember those we lost. And we will salute the soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines, and coast guardsmen who emerged from this crucible to stand among the greatest generations in our history. The 9/11 generation has been defined by that day and these wars. Five million of them have served in uniform, two million in combat. Their service has changed the course of world events.
No one has played a more important role leading this new generation on the battlefield than the man who stands before us today. General Petraeus has been both a combat leader and a leading strategist in this post-9/11 world. It is rare for a leader to have both the endurance and charisma to lead troops in war and the force of mind to shape strategy for war. Dave Petraeus has distinguished himself at each. In Iraq and Afghanistan, our forces fought on battlefields different than we have faced before, different than we had trained for, and different than we had equipped for. To overcome an unfamiliar enemy, wielding an arsenal of lethal tactics, General Petraeus built a counterinsurgency strategy around the adaptability and ingenuity of the 9/11 generation. That strategy enabled the world's most remarkable military to wage a new kind of war.
Iraq and Afghanistan have tested our men and women in uniform. They have tested the resilience and agility of our institutional military. And they have tested our nation’s resolve. But by acting on his belief that “the most powerful tool any soldier carries is not his weapon, but his mind," General Petraeus has redefined how America fought these wars. The revolution in doctrine and tactics he inspired not only delivered Iraq from the clutches of sectarian violence. It has also given the people of Afghanistan a fighting chance to determine their future.
General Petraeus succeeded because his skill as a soldier and brilliance as a strategist propelled him at each step of his career. Cadet Petraeus distinguished himself at West Point. Soldier Petraeus stood out in every command he held. Doctor Petraeus was commissioned as a political strategist at Princeton. Professor Petraeus taught on the faculty at West Point. Strategist Petraeus made his mark on Army doctrine with a little manual on counterinsurgency you might have heard of. And General Petraeus led our forces in two of the most dangerous and complex wars our nation has fought, becoming a statesman in his own right on the world stage.
He has done all of this while setting an exceptional example of selfless service. When asked by President Obama to step-down from Central Command and return to the field, General Petraeus did not hesitate. Now, a year after he departed for Kabul, the Commander-in-Chief called on him again for a very different mission—leading the CIA. Without hesitation, General Petraeus pledged to continue serving our nation after a thirty-seven year career in uniform. And I know that our colleagues at CIA are looking forward to those ten-mile morning runs with the new Director.
This selfless devotion to service is a trait shared by the entire Petraeus family. His daughter Anne so gracefully tolerated her father’s absences—first in Bosnia, then Iraq, then Iraq again and again, finally in Afghanistan. His son, Lieutenant Stephen Petraeus, fought in Afghanistan under his father’s command. General Petraeus’s wife Holly has spent her entire life as the daughter, the wife, and now the mother of a soldier. She, too, accepted President Obama’s call to serve by helping to protect our service members and their families from fraud and financial hardship. Holly, your life and your work honors all who stand with those in uniform.
General Petraeus, as you bring your relentless drive to a new mission, at another institution, you leave behind a military and a nation that is forever indebted. You have proven yourself the greatest kind of patriot: a man who so cherishes our country’s ideals he is not afraid to challenge the institutions that guard them. By transforming our military from within, you have showed us all how to honor tradition by remaking it.
Though after today you will no longer wear the uniform, you will always be a soldier. For you have lived the creed set forth by another great Army General at the Battle of the Bulge. Faced with orders to execute a daring maneuver, General George Patton said this: “I am a soldier. I fight where I am told, and I win where I fight.”
David, good luck and Godspeed.