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4th Infantry Division Commander Recounts War Moments

By Tam Cummings
Special to American Forces Press Service

FORT HOOD, Texas, April 23, 2004 – A war against terrorists, the capture of a fallen dictator, the introduction of e-mail to a battle zone and the first war of the century have earned the soldiers of Operation Iraqi Freedom a unique place in history, the commander of the Army's 4th Infantry Division said here April 22.

"This is a new type of war," said Maj. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, whose Task Force Ironhorse command in Iraq included soldiers from other units as well. "This is a war of ideologies. This is about society, about our way of life, and people trying to attack our way of life."

It's not a case of violence on every street corner, Odierno said, but "that doesn't mean it's not dangerous. It's a very complicated situation." Though he is 6 feet 5 inches tall, the general spoke softly as he explained the 4th Infantry Division's role in the war in Iraq.

"Everyone knows they can't stand up to our Army, our Navy, Air Force or Marines," the 49-year-old West Point graduate said. "The Saddam (Hussein) regime was dangerous to all people. What he would do to maintain power was everything to him."

The level of violence fluctuates in Iraq, the general said. "We are at a peak point right now," he explained. Insurgents are seeking a role in the Iraqi government by promoting violence, he said.

Odierno said there might be 10 Iraqi citizens standing on a corner, and nine of them are good people. "They don't wear uniforms. How do you determine who the 10th person is?" he said. Defeating the insurgents is hard work, he added.

The general recalled the division's capture of Saddam Hussein. "There we were, the United States Army, in one of the palace compounds with 114 buildings, 70- something of which were ornate," Odierno said. "And there he was, less than 10 kilometers away down the Tigris River, living in a hole. He was disheveled (and) disoriented, this supposedly powerful leader. There he was in the bottom of a hole."

The general said he learned on the morning of Dec. 13 that there might be action, and the capture took place that afternoon. "It was a clear day, a nice day," he recalled. When the deposed dictator was captured, Odierno got the call in the operations center. "'Sir we've got HTV (hard target value) No.1,'" he said he was told.

The general said he told his staff the news, but within moments, had to tell the staff something else. "I had to quiet them down, because we had a bunch of embedded people, including CNN and Fox right next door," he said. And Saddam still needed to be evacuated.

"I called (Lt.) Gen. (Ricardo S.) Sanchez and I had to tell him a couple of times," Odierno said with a laugh. "When I told him, at first he thought he'd heard me wrong."

Odierno's own reaction was calmer then that of his soldiers, because he was well into planning the next step. "It wasn't anti-climactic; I was just getting ready to do a major operation," he said. Division soldiers already had performed 15 to 20 operations to kill or capture Saddam, the general said. "Sometimes we were 12 or 24 hours, sometimes just a few days behind him," he said.

The capture caused a two-day delay in sending 7,000 troops into another region. "I was focused on getting that done. I didn't realize the impact (the capture had worldwide). I was stunned," Odierno said. "It was clear he was a cloud over Iraq. Knowing he was out there and then seeing him captured, it was a huge relief. Four months later, seeing him very desperate, people began acting independently of him."

The general also said the use of e-mail helped him keep up with home events during the war. "It was a good way to communicate," he said. "The problem with phones is you call and no one is there and you leave a message, but (it's) not what you wanted."

Using e-mail helped the general and his wife, Linda, pass information to the soldiers' families as well. He said information helps to stop rumors. "She's very proud of the fact that we didn't have significant rumors started," the general said of his wife. "We had regular dialogues."

Odierno said soldiers in Operation Iraqi Freedom performed above and beyond their duties. "It is my honor to command soldiers," he said. "No job compares to what these soldiers did," he said.

"The soldiers were focused and understood our mission," the general continued. "Every single day, they went out and did it. They were tough, dedicated, smart, and they adapted to the environment.

"That included being lethal when you have to be, and turning around next and building schools or delivering supplies," he said. "I'm very proud of how they handled it."

(Tam Cummings is assigned to Fort Hood public affairs.)

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