Wednesday, July 02, 2003

Ulysses Comes Home

CENTCOM has announced the replacement of General Tommy R. Franks, who successfully conducted the campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq,  by Lieutenant General John P. Abizaid on July 7, 2003. According to MSNBC, General Franks, 57, will retire.

Military officers in many other nations cling to power as long as they can, often subverting civilian authority in an attempt to prolong their tenures. But the retirement of General Franks recalls the departure from service of General Norman Schwartzkopf and underlines the American tradition returning the victorious warrior home to private life, however great his accomplishments, just as did George Washington, Robert Lee, Ulysses Grant and Dwight Eisenhower. Washington famously resigned his commission at the conclusion of the Treaty of Paris and rode straight home to Mount Vernon. Robert Lee returned from Appomatox to serve as president of Washington College.

His replacement, Lieutenant General John P. Abizaid, is an American parable in a different sort of way. The grandson of Lebanese immigrants, Abizaid speaks Arabic, studied in Jordan and at Harvard. Before seniority took him away from direct field command, his military career read like a history of the late Cold War and it's aftermath in miniature.

Lieutenant General Abizaid was commissioned a second lieutenant of Infantry upon graduation from the United States Military Academy in June 1973. He started his career with the 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, where he served as a rifle and scout platoon leader. He commanded companies in the 2nd and 1st Ranger Battalions, leading a Ranger Rifle Company during the invasion of Grenada.

Lieutenant General Abizaid commanded the 3rd Battalion, 325th Airborne Battalion combat Team in Vicenza, Italy, during the Gulf crisis and deployed with the battalion to Kurdistan in Northern Iraq. His brigade command was the 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 82nd Airborne Division. He served as the Assistant Division Commander, 1st Armored Division, in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Following that tour, he served as the 66th Commandant at West Point. Most recently, he commanded 1st Infantry Division, the “Big Red One,” in Wurzburg. The 1st Infantry Division formed the core of Task Force Falcon in Kosovo.

Individual American commanders enter the stage of history from ordinary life and return to it, in affirmation of the truth that the sole value of war lies in what it is meant to protect. In some essential way and despite all the trappings of modernity, the United States Armed Forces remains what it was at Lexington, a body of men for whom warfare is just an unwelcome interruption, with the harvest waiting and the hearth-fire calling.

By the rude bridge that arched the flood,
Their flag to April's breeze unfurled,
Here once the embattled farmers stood,
And fired the shot heard round the world

Spirit, that made those heroes dare
To die, and leave their children free,
Bid Time and Nature gently spare
The shaft we raise to them and thee.