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Exit McChrystal, Enter Petraeus: 10 Facts About the New Afghanistan Commander

5 years ago
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Now that President Obama has appointed Gen. David Petraeus to replace Gen. Stanley McChrystal, it's time to take a look at the new four-star general in charge of the war in Afghanistan.

Petraeus, 57, is currently the commander of the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), which is responsible for the military in the Middle East and Central Asia, and as such he was McChrystal's direct boss. But he brings more than that to the post:

1. He wrote the Army's new counterinsurgency manual.
In 2005, Petraeus was the head of the Army's Combined Arms Center at Fort Leavenworth, Kan. With a team of scholars, journalists and diplomats, he and Gen. James Amos wrote the new manual, referred to as "COIN FM," emphasizing transparency, protection of citizens and civic reconstruction projects. The manual was a national bestseller and was even reviewed in the New York Times Book Review.

2. He commanded the successful 2007 surge in Iraq.
In January 2007, President Bush sent Petraeus to Iraq to command the Multi-National Force Iraq. Using the COIN strategies, Petraeus successfully led the new counterinsurgency effort, which focused on building relationships with Iraqis. By September of that year, he was testifying before Congress that the tactics were working.

3. He's tough as nails, and has some screws inside him to prove it.
Being a four-star general comes with occupational hazards. Trained as a paratrooper, Petraeus was skydiving in 2000 when his parachute failed to open 60 feet above the ground. The rough landing broke his pelvis, which was put back together using a plate and screws.

4. He's been shot, by accident.
In 1991, Petraeus was watching a live-fire training exercise of an infantry at Fort Campbell, Ky., when one of the soldiers tripped and fell, triggering his M-16 and sending a round through the right side of Petraeus' chest and out his back. At the hospital, doctors rammed a chest tube into him, an excruciating procedure that reportedly elicited no more than a grunt from the veteran soldier. Days after his surgery, he took the IV tubes out of his arms and did 50 push-ups to prove to the hospital staff that he was well enough to go back to work.

5. He had prostate cancer.
Petraeus was diagnosed with and treated for prostate cancer last year at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. He kept up his full schedule the entire time, which provoked one of his aides to tell Vanity Fair, "It was like it never happened." He kept the treatment a secret until last fall, when a New York Times reporter asked him about it. Some speculated the cancer was to blame for his passing out while testifying before Congress last week, but his staff said the fainting was the result of not eating breakfast.

6. His new job is actually a step down.
As commander of CENTCOM Petraeus was in charge of the wars in both Iraq and Afghanistan. To fill the spot left open by Gen. "Loose Lips" McChrystal, Petraeus will step down as CENTCOM commander when he is confirmed by Senate.

7. He doesn't vote.
Unlike McChrystal, who infamously told President Obama at their first meeting that he had voted for him, Petraeus stopped voting when he became a major general.

8. He has a scholarly side.
Petraeus graduated from West Point in the top 5 percent of his class and went on to earn an M.P.A. and a Ph.D. from Princeton in 1987. He completed his graduate studies in a third of the normal time so that he wouldn't be away from the troops for too long. His dissertation, "The American Military and the Lessons of Vietnam," dealt in part with combating counterinsurgencies.

9. His nickname growing up was "Peaches."
The moniker was reportedly the creation of his Little League teammates in Cornwall-on-Hudson, N.Y., just north of West Point, who couldn't pronounce his last name. His father, Sixtus, was a Dutch sea captain who eventually retired from the ocean to work for a power company; his mother was from Brooklyn.

10. He met his wife at West Point.
Petraeus married Holly Knowlton, the daughter of the West Point superintendent, soon after he graduated in 1974. Their son Stephen was commissioned into the Army last year after graduating from MIT with a degree in political science. Petraeus administered the oath of office at the ROTC graduation.
Filed Under: Surge Desk

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