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Tribute to LTG Ray Odierno and CSM Neil Ciotola (Baghdad, Iraq)
As Prepared for Delivery by Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates, Baghdad, Iraq, Monday, February 11, 2008

I’m glad to be able to take a few moments during this visit to recognize General Odierno and Command Sergeant Major Ciotola, and, with them, the remarkable achievements and sacrifices of the men and women of Multi-National Corp-Iraq.
                  General Odierno and his team arrived last year during what was considered a grim time for the Iraq mission.   Under the guidance of General Petraeus – and I would note that yesterday marked one year since he assumed the MNF-I command – this Corps carried out a strategy that combined classic counterinsurgency principles with approaches that broke new ground in the history of warfare.   
                Those early months were tough.  Casualties were high.  And questions mounted in the United States and around the world whether this new strategy – or any strategy for that matter – would be able to make a real difference.
                But a difference you made, and much more:   Al Qaeda routed, the insurgents co-opted, and levels of violence of all kinds dramatically reduced.
                The situation in Iraq is no doubt fragile.  But the Iraqi people now have an opportunity to forge a better, more secure, and more prosperous future.  That is what you were asked to do by your President and your country, and that is what you have done. 
                This is usually the part of the ceremony where we recognize and pay tribute to the awardees' family members.  Of course the Odiernos and Ciotolas cannot be here.  Like thousands of other families, they have been touched directly by this war, and like thousands of other families, they have my eternal gratitude and respect.
                It is often said that NCOs are the backbone of the Army.  Over the past 14 months, Neil Ciotola has been this Corps’ steel spine, as well as the eyes and ears of its command.   There are no doubt men and women in MNC-I who will return home safely to their families because their Command Sergeant Major was looking out for them every step of the way.    And for that, Sir, I thank you and salute you.
                General Odierno has proved himself to be one of the most effective military leaders of his generation, and soon the Army – as an institution – will have the benefit of his talents and experience when he becomes its Vice Chief of Staff.
                In my remaining time at this post, I look forward to working with Ray Odierno during this critical time for the Army – while the service presses ahead with transformation and its biggest expansion in a generation.
                I will close by noting that while Ray Odierno has the reputation of being the tallest guy in Iraq, it turns out that the new guy is just as big.    Must be something in the water in MNC-I.                    
                So with that, good luck and God speed.