Commander says farewell to Kansas

Petraeus thanks those around him before taking command of U.S. forces

? Just days before he becomes commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, Lt. Gen. David Petraeus bid farewell Friday to Fort Leavenworth, where he has spent the past 16 months.

But instead of focusing on the mission that awaits him, Petraeus used the occasion to thank the post’s military and civilian employees, leaders and other supporters from communities around the fort, and his wife, Holly.

“This morning, really, is as much about you in the audience and those you represent and lead as it is about Holly and me,” Petraeus said.

Petraeus, who arrived in October 2005 to become commander of the Combined Arms Center and Fort Leavenworth, said he almost followed the lead of his immediate predecessor, Gen. William Wallace, to forego a farewell. Ultimately, Petraeus said, there were two reasons to go forward with the ceremony.

“First, this seemed like a great opportunity to thank the terrific military and civilian members of CAC and the various schools and centers who are truly responsible for what has been accomplished over the last 16 months.

“And second, Holly and I felt this would also be a great opportunity to say thanks to the many terrific supporters of Fort Leavenworth from neighboring communities, who make this post a wonderful place to serve and live and help earn its reputation as our Army’s best hometown,” he said.

During his speech, Petraeus handed out citations to civilian and military aides, thanked his West Point roommate, Steve Trout, who traveled from St. Louis to the ceremony, and made special mention of the executive secretaries at the Combined Arms Center, “who are representative of everything that is great about the civilian work force that is the greatest in the Army.”

Robert Arter, a retired general and Lansing resident who attended the ceremony, said he wasn’t surprised Petraeus sought to deflect the limelight.

“As a great leader, he has the recognition and understands in detail what makes an organization function,” Arter said. “I thought it was very typical of him to highlight the contributions other people have made.”

Wallace, who introduced Petraeus, called him a “most accomplished leader and warrior.”

“You are leaving the Combined Arms Center and Fort Leavenworth far better than it’s ever been,” Wallace said.

As for Petraeus’ next mission, he is President Bush’s personal choice to lead U.S. troops in Iraq. Many see the mission as the United States’ best last chance to turn the tide against the Iraq insurgency and bring stability to the county.

Wallace said Petraeus, who is scheduled to fly Monday to Iraq, would be more than up to the task.

“Once again our great nation has called on David Petraeus to buckle up and lead our war efforts abroad in some of the most extraordinarily challenging times in our nation’s history,” Wallace said. “Those of us who know David know he is exactly the right man for the job.”