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Friday, December 3, 2021

Army general who commanded Iraq dies of cancer at the age of 67

WASHINGTON – Raymond T. Odirno, a retired Army general who commanded US and coalition forces in Iraq at the height of the war and spent a 39-year career serving as the army’s chief of staff, died, his family said on Saturday. He was 67 years old.

“The general died after a valiant battle with cancer; His death was not related to COVID,” said a family statement. “There are no other details to share at this time. His family is grateful for the concern and demands privacy.”

Odiorno died on Friday; The family declined to say where it was. It said information on funerals and interventions was not yet available.

President Joe Biden lauded Odierno as a “hero of great integrity and honour.” In a joint statement, President and First Lady Jill Biden recalled that Odierno spoke at the funeral of his son Beau, who served under Odierno in Iraq and died of brain cancer in 2015.

“Ray was a giant in military circles—first and always devoted to the service members he commanded and served,” Bidens said, adding that Odirno and his wife Linda were advocates for military children and families.

“We stand with the Odierno family and all our brave service members who were shaped and molded by General Odierno during his lifetime,” he said.

At 6-foot-5, Odirno was an impressive figure. He played football as a cadet at West Point and maintained a lifelong interest in the sport. Army Secretary Christine Wermuth wrote on Twitter Saturday evening that Odirno embraced the values ​​of West Point and the Army.

“A leader who was larger than life, we will always remember him for his selfless service to our country and our soldiers in and out of uniform,” she wrote.

Odirno made three tours in Iraq. After his first, as commander of the 4th Infantry Division in 2003–04, he was criticized by some for overly aggressive tactics that some believed fed the rebellion. At an early high water mark, in December 2003, his troops were involved in capturing the ousted President of Iraq, Saddam Hussein. That success gave hope to crush an emerging insurgency, but in 2004 the insurgency gained more momentum and led to the deadly rise of al-Qaeda in Iraq.

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Odirno returned to Iraq in 2008 and served as commander of the Multi-National Corps-Iraq for two years. He then took over as the top overall US and coalition commander in Baghdad, the war ending in 2010. He was succeeded in that position by General Lloyd Austin, who is now Secretary of Defense.

A native of Rockaway, New Jersey, Odirno graduated from the US Military Academy in West Point, New York, in 1976 with a commission in field artillery. He served in a wide range of Army and Department of Defense roles with several tours abroad, including Iraq, Germany, Albania and Kuwait. As a three-star general he was an assistant to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, a job that made him chief military adviser to the secretary of state.

When Odirno retired in 2015, he was replaced as Chief of Army Staff by the current Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley.

In a ceremony marking his retirement from the military, then-Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter described him as a commander whose tenacity and knowledge of operations gave civilian leaders great confidence.

“His commanding presence calmed the confused, and his courage and compassion helped bear the burden of loss and sacrifice,” Carter said.

Three months ago, North Carolina State University announced that Odirno had joined its board of trustees. In 1986 he earned a Master of Science degree in Nuclear Effects Engineering from the state of North Carolina. He was the president of Odirno Associates, a consulting firm in Pinehurst, North Carolina.

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