The 'Energizer general' is soon back running a war

President Barack Obama announces that Gen. David Petraeus, second from right, will replace Gen. Stanley McChrystal as commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan. Petraeus graduated near the top of his class at West Point and earned a doctoral degree from Princeton. 

Associated Press

President Barack Obama announces that Gen. David Petraeus, second from right, will replace Gen. Stanley McChrystal as commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan. Petraeus graduated near the top of his class at West Point and earned a doctoral degree from Princeton. 

WASHINGTON — Army Gen. David Petraeus has already turned around a struggling U.S. war once. President Barack Obama is betting he can do it again.

The professorial four-star general with an outsized reputation hasn't been chosen as Afghanistan war commander to bring a bold new strategy to the effort. Instead, he is seen as the officer best able to make the current strategy work — and to end the squabbling between diplomats and military leaders that broke into the open and consumed Gen. Stanley McChrystal's career.

If McChrystal's staff resembled a locker room-style boy's club, Petraeus, a Princeton Ph.D., is known for running his team more like a graduate seminar.

But he can set a ferocious pace.

"He is the Energizer general," says retired U.S. Army Col. Peter Mansoor, who was Petraeus' executive officer in Iraq in 2007 and 2008. "But what he'll need is someone on his staff to make him pace himself. That was my job." Mansoor said: "His natural instinct is to run himself into the ground."

Petraeus, 57, rises early for long runs, outgunning officers half his age, and responds to e-mails in the middle of the night. The intensity has sometimes shown. Petraeus briefly collapsed during Senate testimony last week, apparently from dehydration.

Response to his nomination on Capitol Hill has been widely positive, and he is expected to be confirmed quickly by the Senate. Rep. Ike Skelton, a Missouri Democrat, said Petraeus' willingness to return to being a war commander shows "the measure of a man."

"He knows we have to be successful there," Skelton said.

The post will mean another long stint overseas for a man who had three tours in Iraq. His return to the United States did not mean much more time with his wife in Tampa, Holly, however. He spent more than 300 days on the road last year, even as he battled prostate cancer. He was later declared free of the disease after a course of chemotherapy.

Petraeus (pronounced puh-TRAY-us) grew up in New York a few miles from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. He graduated in the top 5 percent of his class from West Point in 1974 and joined a crop of young officers molded by the vexing lessons of Vietnam.

Petraeus trained in France, according to a New Yorker profile, and got to know French troops who had fought in Vietnam in the 1950s.

So began a lifetime fascination with the subject that culminated in a 1987 doctoral thesis he wrote at Princeton University's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, "The American Military and the Lessons of Vietnam.'' Friends say that was when Petraeus began to focus on counterinsurgency strategy, not a popular area of expertise after Vietnam.

"Searching reappraisal of America's involvement in Vietnam must be part of any effort to avoid a similar experience in the future," Petraeus wrote in the dissertation. "At the least, such study will provide valuable perspective."

But lessons of Vietnam, he wrote, should not dictate all military philosophy.

Petraeus' career has been on the military fast track:

Top honors at Army Ranger school. Aide to the Army chief of staff. Executive assistant to the chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Commander of the famed 101st Airborne Division. Stints in Bosnia and Haiti.

In 1991, he lost part of a lung after he was accidentally shot in the chest by an M-16 during training.

He has a favorite expression: "Luck is what you call it when preparation meets opportunity."

Information from an October 2008 profile of Gen. David Petraeus by Times staff writer William R. Levesque was included in this Associated Press report.

. biography

Gen. David H. Petraeus

Age: 57; born Nov. 7, 1952, to a Dutch sea captain and a Brooklyn woman in Cornwall-on-Hudson, N.Y., a few miles from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.

Education: Graduated in top 5 percent of his 1974 West Point class; master's and doctoral degrees, 1985 and 1987, Princeton University; received all three prizes awarded in his class at Ranger School and was the top graduate in the Army Command and General Staff College class of 1983. He is recognized as one of the Army's top intellectuals.

Career highlights: Commander of U.S. Central Command since October 2008; served 19 months as commanding general of the multinational force in Iraq during the surge; previously, aide to Army chief of staff, executive assistant to chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; commander of 101st Airborne Division.

Family: He met his wife, Holly, when he was at West Point, where she was the superintendent's daughter. They have two children.

The 'Energizer general' is soon back running a war 06/23/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, June 23, 2010 11:41pm]

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