Eatonton retired Army commander set the bar high
With the Vietnam War not showing signs of ending any time soon, 1970 ushered in a new wave of U.S. Army recruits as another push of the unpopular war needed leaders to help try and bring it to a successful end for the U.S.
New recruit Stewart Rodeheaver didn’t know what his military destiny would be but one thing was certain: the determined young man was going to train and be ready for anything that came his way.
The Vietnam War never found him. Instead, massive instruction in the military way prevailed and in hindsight, prepared him for an intrepid journey of nearly 40 years serving the country he so dearly loved.
Even after retiring in 2010, Rodeheaver stayed in touch with many of the troops he commanded while also keeping an eye on the Army through Desert Storm in Iraq from 2004 until 2007. Even today, Rodeheaver has kept his finger on the pulse of Army affairs and is not afraid to share his views on current military readiness.
After Iraq, Rodeheaver became the commander in the U.S., Guam and Puerto Rico responsible for training troops on how to go to war. Truth is, that bar was set very high early in General Rodeheaver’s career.
“In 2004, we went into Iraq as a part of the 3rd Infantry Division and when we went in, we replaced the 40th Mountain Division,” he recalled. “It just so happened the commander we replaced was Martin Milly, the new four-star general of today’s Joint Chiefs of Staff. We worked together in the transition of his unit and my unit when we came in and took over Iraq.”
However, that transition was not easy by any stretch as the Iraq situation was very hostile and volatile.
“Those were bad times, bad shooting times in a bad territory known as the Triangle of Death, an area about 20 miles south of Baghdad,” he said. “My home was right in the middle of the Triangle. Just from the Georgia National Guard alone, we lost 23 men and about 100 overall.”
In play during that time was the hunt for ousted Iraqi dictator Sadaam Hussein who had gone into hiding.
“We were in the hunt for him,” Rodeheaver said with distinction. “We had a deck of cards with all the people we were looking for marked on the cards. We captured several people that had high numbers on the deck including one of Sadaam’s sons.
“He made it real tough on people and killed a lot of people for a lot of reasons but it was mainly for greed, money and power,” he said of Hussein.
While in Iraq, Rodeheaver was assigned a couple of quick in and out missions in Afghanistan but did not spend much time there and said he never saw a battle in that country.
“Afghanistan was a little different place,” he explained. “Iraq had a lot of big desert open space while most of Afghanistan was narrow mountain passes and very rocky terrain. There were a lot of high points where the enemy could climb and shoot down on you.
“We had the same problem in Iraq. They were hiding in buildings and climbing to the top and firing down on us. They would hide in structures so they could see us coming from a long way away in that flat terrain.”
With the 20-year war now over in Afghanistan, Rodeheaver was asked to assess the withdrawal of the U.S. troops.
“In this withdrawal, it looked like they totally abandoned Army protocol and it was a political pullout. They pulled out and left equipment and left people abandoned without any protection,” Rodeheaver said. “This was not the way we were trained in the Army. It was a panicked withdrawal and made the U.S. look really bad. It made the United States look very unorganized and it hurt us across the world.”
It not only hurt the reputation, Rodeheaver suggested, but tarnished greatly the trust factor with many nations.
“I don’t think nations believe us anymore,” he said. “We basically cut and ran. I am disappointed but not surprised. When the Taliban comes into an area, they don’t do direct fights. It is all guerrilla warfare. They identify the enemy and go kill their family. They give you a choice to join them or have your family killed.
“Nobody will trust our word now and nobody around the world is going to trust our politicians. When we folded, that hurt our reputation and reliability around the world.”
The world, Rodeheaver said, has always looked at the U.S. as the leader in the fight for freedom. Now, he doesn’t believe the new administration wants to take that position.
In light of the upheaval in those aspects in today’s “new military,” Rodeheaver was asked what his message would be to a battalion of new warriors under his command.
“Duty, honor, country,” he answered. “And don’t get involved in the politics.”