Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates commended Army Gen. David D. McKiernan’s leadership at every military level during a retirement ceremony for the former top U.S. commander in Afghanistan here today.
McKiernan returned the favor, calling Gates “the finest secretary of defense in my lifetime.
Gates replaced McKiernan as the commander of NATO and U.S. forces in Afghanistan after the general spent less than a year in Kabul. Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal now holds the position.
McKiernan addressed this early in his remarks. “If you had asked me 30 days ago if I would be here at my retirement ceremony, I probably would have said no,” the general said. “Make no mistake I was dismayed, disappointed, more than a little embarrassed. But, as so often in life … I received some candid coaching that said, ‘McKiernan, this is not about you. It’s about paying respect to your profession and those around who know you.’”
Gates said it was an honor to be asked to participate in the ceremony marking the end of McKiernan’s 37-year Army career.
“He has handled everything the Army and his commander in chief have thrown at him with supreme professionalism, intelligence and dedication to our nation and the men and women under his command,” the secretary said.
The general commanded the coalition land forces and launched the attack into Iraq in March 2003. Gates praised McKiernan for having the “skill and the will to keep the march to Baghdad on track through ‘Fedayeen’ attacks and furious sandstorms. [It was] a march that in less than three weeks brought Saddam Hussein’s brutal regime to an end.”
The general’s experience in Iraq served him well in Afghanistan, where he led an international military effort to secure and rebuild the country, the secretary said. McKiernan dedicated himself to recalibrating the International Security Assistance Force’s mission to better protect the Afghan people, the secretary said. He also oversaw a major expansion in Afghan security forces and brought about better coordination between military and civilian efforts in the country.
McKiernan made the NATO force better at counterinsurgency by ensuring its members were better trained. He worked diligently to improve cooperation among Afghanistan, Pakistan and NATO, Gates said.
McKiernan believed “the Afghan people deserve better than the last 30 years of conflict,” Gates said. “While the Taliban and other terrorist groups offer only lies and fears, our continued effort promotes freedom and hope.”
Army Chief of Staff Gen. George W. Casey Jr. hosted the retirement review on Summerall Field here and spoke highly of McKiernan’s command and operational experience.
Casey praised the general for his service in the Cold War, during Desert Storm, in the Balkans, as the ground commander of Operation Iraqi Freedom, and finally, as the commander of the NATO in Afghanistan.
“I can’t think of another officer who has contributed so much and given so much to the men and women of this Army,” Casey said.
The general received the Distinguished Service Medal from Casey and the Defense Distinguished Service Medal from Gates. In addition, his wife, Carmen McKiernan, was presented the Defense Distinguished Civilian Service Medal.
McKiernan has said that he and his wife plan on living in the Boston area and on staying involved in the support of soldiers. Read more tr.im/sx7H
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