Chiarelli retires after 40 years of service
February 3, 2012
The thunderous sound of the gun volley that echoed across Washington Jan. 31 marked the end to an acclaimed and storied military career for Gen. Peter W. Chiarelli.
Chiarelli served for the past three years as the Army's vice chief of staff. At the end of his career, he was applauded for his contributions to Soldiers, their Families and the Army institution.
The ceremony was hosted by Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Raymond T. Odierno and attended by lawmakers, Department of Defense officials, and senior military officers.
Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta used the Italian phrase "buon uomo," meaning "good man," to describe Chiarelli, a man he includes amongst his friends. He said it is the strength and fortitude of men like Chiarelli that make the Army the greatest in the world.
Panetta said former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates saw in Chiarelli a depth of knowledge, skill and passion for Soldiers and their Families that led the former secretary to choose the general to serve as his "right hand man" and senior military assistant.
In that role, Chiarelli would inform Gates on a full range of pressing security matters. He would also advise the secretary on how his decisions would impact service members on the battlefield.
"If there is one thing that has been the hallmark of Pete's career, it is the depth of his concern for the welfare of every Soldier," Panetta said. "It's that quality that made him the perfect choice to be the vice chief of staff of the Army."
Panetta said the secretary knew that, "as long as there were Soldiers in harm's way, as long as there was a single Army Family in need, Pete would not rest. And for more than three years, Pete has not rested. Pete, you have earned a time of peace, a time for Family," he said.
Odierno thanked the Chiarelli Family for their support -- including both his children and wife, Beth, who stood by him during a 40-year military career and through 25 permanent change-of-station moves.
"As an Army wife and mother, you have made many sacrifices," Odierno told her. "I believe this observance is trivial compared to all you have given us. As we all know, soldiering is a Family affair, and there's no better example to us than the Chiarelli Family."
Dempsey, who told the media their headline should read: "We have never had a finer man in uniform than Pete Chiarelli," described the general's innovativeness and skill as an officer and also his character as a person. The two men have known each other their entire careers.
The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin E. Dempsey said Chiarelli has long carried the mantle as being one of the best trainers in the Army. He said when Chiarelli's 1st Cavalry Division was being sent to Baghdad to take over operations, the general sent his staff to Austin, Texas, to learn how city officials there run the city.
"Only Pete Chiarelli, truthfully in those days, would have thought to spend his time and prepare his staff in that way," Dempsey said.
Dempsey also spoke of the general's thoughtfulness. He said while recovering during a long stay in the hospital, it was Chiarelli who, "every week, without fail" sent him a greeting card telling him to get well.
"I will never forget that," Dempsey said. "He is a giant of a man in every way inside and out. I couldn't be prouder to call you my friend."
Secretary of the Army John McHugh said he is reluctant to see great men like Chiarelli leave the service. And for that reason McHugh said as a member of Congress he never supported term limits, "Because we have in this great man an example of someone who had much more to give," he added.
McHugh concluded his remarks by comparing Chiarelli to the patch of the 1st Cavalry Division, which the general wore into combat. The insignia of the 1st Cav. is the Army's largest patch. McHugh said Chiarelli has done "big things" for the Army, "big in principles, big in heart, and big in faith and, as you know, he had done incredibly big things that have made this Army better."
When he finally got his turn to speak, Chiarelli was brief. He spoke about his career from Fort Knox to his arrival here in Washington. He talked about his father, a World War II veteran who received a battlefield commission and who was awarded a Silver Star of heroism.
Chiarelli spoke passionately of Soldiers and the contributions they have made to the country.
"They are not just steely-eyed killers," Chiarelli said. Soldiers, he said, are now playing many roles, including diplomats, mayors, economists, city engineers, liaisons, trainers and farmers.
"Over the past decade they have made a tremendous difference in the lives of people living and working in both theaters," he said. "I am incredibly and profoundly proud of all they have accomplished."
He became emotional when he spoke of the 650 Soldiers he lost under his command in Iraq.
"I would trade all the medals and ribbons on my chest and every bit of rank to get just one of them back," he explained.
Chiarelli's career has personified the Army's definition of values: loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity, and personal courage. The seven rows of ribbons stacked neatly across his chest tell the story of his accomplishments.
The general was commissioned as a second lieutenant in September 1972 and has since then commanded troops at every level from platoon to corps.
His principal staff assignments have been as the operations officer, 1st Cavalry Division at Fort Hood, Texas; executive assistant and later executive officer to the supreme allied commander and commander United States European Command at SHAPE Headquarters, Mons, Belgium; and as the director of operations, readiness and mobilization, at headquarters, Department of the Army.
Chiarelli is a seasoned war veteran with two combat tours in Iraq. During Operation Iraqi Freedom II, he led the 1st Cavalry Division into battle, and later returned to command Multi-National Corps-Iraq. After Iraq, he came to Washington to serve as the senior military assistant to former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates from March 2007 to August 2008.
It was at the Pentagon, perhaps, where the Seattle native made the most of his career, working tirelessly to build an Army that is more resilient than ever.
The son of a World War II veteran, Chiarelli's efforts included care for wounded warriors, where he advocated better care for those suffering from what he often refers to as the "signature wounds" of Iraq and Afghanistan: traumatic brain injuries and post-traumatic stress. He also helped lessen the stigma associated with seeking help for those injuries. Under Chiarelli's watch, the Army developed effective protocols for troops downrange who have suffered concussive events and mild traumatic brain injuries.
The Army is now doing the same for those with post-traumatic stress injuries. Chiarelli also challenged the medical and scientific research communities to come up with new treatments, therapies, technologies and protective devices for Soldiers.
Chiarelli was also passionate about reducing the number of suicides among servicemembers, and he led efforts to fix the problem. He led the Army Suicide Prevention Task Force and the Army Suicide Prevention Counsel, which together transformed how the service manages health promotion and risk reduction programs and service.
The general met with commanders on the ground weekly to identify trends and corrective actions, and spoke out on the subject before Congress and in the media. He often testified that reducing the stigma among Soldiers seeking behavioral help was an important factor in reducing suicides.
According to the Army, more than 280,000 individuals sought out-patient behavioral health care in fiscal year 2011. Despite a recent Army study which shows an increase in the number of active duty suicides in 2011, the overall numbers over the past three years have leveled off.
But Chiarelli's career was more than just caring for Soldiers; Chiarelli was recognized for his service to the Army as a whole.
During the ceremony, he was awarded the Defense Distinguished Service Medal for running the Army during the nation's longest war and for doing so with an all-volunteer force and diminishing resources. The general also led the Army through the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure, which reshaped the Army's infrastructure.
In a final message to troops last week, Chiarelli commended Soldiers for their accomplishments in Afghanistan and Iraq, saying that over the past decade they have done an "absolutely magnificent job fighting two wars in difficult and demanding environments."
Chiarelli also pointed out that Army leaders and healthcare providers have made meaningful strides in their ongoing efforts to improve the health and discipline of the Army.
"The reality is we have never been more prepared to take care of Soldiers and Families in a post-war era. We must maintain this momentum and ensure we take care of our most precious asset: our people," he wrote. "If we all continue to do our part -- reach out --help connect individuals with the tremendous outpouring of support services and resources available to them, we can help heal wounds, enable opportunity, and ultimately achieve a stronger, more capable Army for the future."
Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III has been chosen as Chiarelli's replacement for vice chief of staff. Austin becomes the first African-American to serve in that role.