April 24th, 2008
09:24 AM ET

Just who is Ray Odierno, anyway?

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Barbara Starr
Pentagon Correspondent

Americans have heard the name General David Petraeus and the word Iraq many times together. But with today’s announcement that Petraeus is moving up to head the US Central Command….the name you will start hearing will be General Raymond Odierno. And, you might be wondering…who is “Ray” Odierno?

Odierno commanded the 4th Infantry Division in 2003 when it pulled Saddam Hussein out of the spider hole. Odierno was on his way home in 2004 when his then 26-year-old son Tony was headed into Iraq—the two met for a 90-minute dinner in a mess tent in Kuwait. General Odierno at that point was sometimes referred to as “Tony Soprano” for his very tough line with Iraqis suspected of being involved in insurgent activity.

But for the entire Odierno family, the war was about to change.

Five months later, while on patrol in Baghdad, young Tony was wounded when the Humvee he was riding in was hit by a rocket propelled grenade. The driver was killed instantly; Tony’s armed was ripped off. General Odierno and his wife Linda got the call and were on a plane within hours—like so many other parents-flying to Landstuhl Hospital in Germany to meet the medivac flight out of Iraq.

The Odierno family granted me a rare interview at their home in March 2006 to talk about all of this. Tony had been working as a military aide in the Pentagon to General Peter Pace, then chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. And Dad was parked next door in an office as a senior staff aide, taking some time between tours of duty in the combat zone.

General Odierno would return to Iraq shortly after that to be Petraeus’ top operational commander. He worked closely with Petraeus to make the so-called surge work and even privately acknowledged his surprise about the degree of reconciliation among Sunnis.

The tough attitude hasn’t gone away. Ray Odierno makes it clear how furious he is about Iranian weapons killing US soldiers in Iraq.

On the other hand, when I saw the general on a trip to Baghdad this past summer and asked how Tony was doing, he expressed his parental dismay that Tony was “cohabitating” in New York with his girlfriend.

Sadly over the years, I have interviewed many young amputees and wounded, and parents of those troops who didn’t make it back. The Odiernos are very private, but wanted to talk in 2006 because they felt they wanted to reach out to other families and tell them they would make it past the tough times.

Linda Odierno, an Army wife and mother, began weeping when the interview began, recalling her wrenching fears about how much pain Tony was in during those first hours and days.

But it was General Odierno who told me how much the family had pulled together, how Linda had learned to change Tony’s dressings and take care of his needs so he could be nursed at home by her.

And it was General Odierno who told me about his own journey: “As a parent you almost feel sorry for yourself initially, at least I did, and then when I saw Tony I didn't feel sorry for myself.”

Now General Odierno says, when he talks to other military families, he talks as a parent, not as a general.

As the general heads back to Iraq for yet another tour, I saw him in the Pentagon hallway a few days ago. After getting the rib crunching bear hug he gives everybody I, of course, asked how Tony is doing. Dad beamed and said Tony is now engaged to be married.

And that's who Ray Odierno is.

Filed under: Barbara Starr • Iraq • Pentagon
soundoff (14 Responses)
  1. zoe

    I admire Gen.Odierno for the love and support he gives to his family.

    March 23, 2011 at 8:40 pm |
  2. Kevin Bridger


    As a young soldier I have had the privilege to be then Col. Odierno's aide in 1996 at Ft. Hood.
    I have spent many days with Gen. Odierno and talked with his wife they are wonderful people and am truly sorry about there son.

    This is just another fact that terrorism can happen to any of us no matter who we are or our position in life.

    September 17, 2009 at 10:47 am |
  3. Eveline Antonelli

    It was nice to read some about Gen Raymond Odierno.
    Many people use his name on "skype" to try get money mainly from housewives! So I can't understand that the military is nothing doing against it!

    August 27, 2009 at 4:54 pm |
  4. JBS

    Why is it that when Gen Patreaus was asked how long it would take to reach certain benchmarks he didn’t know but he had a perfectly clear crystal ball when it came to what would happen if we leave Iraq prematurely. Every CEO of public companies posts projections of earnings and business expectations – I know Gen Odierno; will give the public a better estimate of progress a lot better than his predecessor.
    Gen. Ordierno will do fine in his job he is more straight forward therefore people fell more confident. He sounds like a Democrat!!

    June 28, 2009 at 12:32 pm |
  5. Tina - Colorado

    Anyone who has ever had the pleasure of knowing Ray Odierno knows that he will do a great job. I was fortunate enough to get to know Ray and his family 20 years ago when Ray and I worked together.

    He is a great man with a wonderful family.

    December 4, 2008 at 3:44 pm |
  6. Tracey - Boston


    Thank you Barbra for introducing us to Ray. He sounds like he is the perfect person to take over. He has a special perspective and I look forward to hearing about his accomplishments

    April 24, 2008 at 8:28 pm |
  7. bill

    Wasn't it also Ray Odierno that rounded up all the innocents and sent them to Abu Ghraib because it was the easiest thing to do? I don't think Odierno and Petraeus are on the same strategic page...

    April 24, 2008 at 5:35 pm |
  8. Johny

    Just bring our troops home that it. I don't care how many General.


    April 24, 2008 at 4:20 pm |
  9. Pat Riot

    My guess is that Ray is the fall guy for when things go seriously south in Iraq. Patreaus will be clear of the fallout and so will continue to be taken seriously by the public as he was during the most recent Congressional testimony.

    Why is it that when Gen Patreaus was asked how long it would take to reach certain benchmarks he didn't know but he had a perfectly clear crystal ball when it came to what would happen if we leave Iraq prematurely. Every CEO of public companies posts projections of earnings and business expectations – why can't anyone in this administration project how long anything will take or get anything right when they do project some "progress"?

    Good luck Gen Odierno, I hope you can estimate progress better than your predecessor.

    April 24, 2008 at 12:04 pm |
  10. Saani Tucker

    I truely feel for the Odiemo family. But, I would like to know more of his military background though. And, is it possible he now has a bias toward this hap hazard occupation. putting myself in his shoes, i would stay over there as long as possible to see justice for my son, a 100 years even. If he was a local cop they would take him off the case sighting he's to personnallly involved.

    April 24, 2008 at 11:58 am |
  11. Michelle

    Thanks for the info. It is great to learn about
    General Ray Odierno.

    April 24, 2008 at 11:03 am |
  12. Tina

    He sounds good to me. I think General Odierno will have a better posistion and carreer than Petraeus even if the pay is less. He'll be more involved with the active duty and could make a difference it seems.

    April 24, 2008 at 10:56 am |
  13. Kimmie

    It seems many moms learn to "change dressings" or whatever the equivalent would be when it comes to raising and protecting their children. It seems the Mrs. Odierno is the woman behind two men: The General and their son. Thanks to all the families of the service men and women. You are all probably "changing dressings" of one kind or another; physically, emotionally or financially.

    April 24, 2008 at 10:37 am |
  14. Taj

    I admire & respect military service personnel. My heart goes out for the families who have lost their family members in this uncalled for war. Civilian casualities are 10 times more. I have the same feelings for them. But ,the politicians (so called leaders), who hide behind, run away from draft and made bad judgements are the ones I dislike. They are the cowards. They get away with murders.

    April 24, 2008 at 10:13 am |