by Ralph Peters [author, novelist]

This Memorial Day Weekend, between the hotdogs and the potato salad, pause to remember the immense sacrifices those in uniform made to defend our freedom.

In prairie towns and great cities, ceremonies honor those who fell under our flag. Some events are well attended. Others merely draw puzzled looks from passers-by. But those who served know what Memorial Day means. It isn’t some horse-and-buggy-era custom, quaint and outdated. This holiday is ever renewed by the soldiers’ blood that transfuses the body politic.

This year, in addition to honoring those who gave all or suffered grievous harm, I want to go a little way toward righting a grave wrong done to a courageous warrior, Rockaway’s own General Ray Odierno.

In the early days of our engagement in Iraq, when too few troops struggled with a confused mission, the best commanders stepped up and did what needed to be done.

Among those who made the hard calls and damned the consequences, no one was more wronged by the media and the pundit platoon than Odierno.

As commander of the 4th Infantry Division in the first year of our “non-occupation,” Odierno and his soldiers were assigned to the Sunni-Arab heartland from which Saddam Hussein’s regime had drawn its strength.

Based in Tikrit – Saddam’s home town – and other hotbeds of resistance, Odierno and his subordinates understood that bitter regime sympathizers had to understand that we meant business. So he showed them how tough American troops can be when violently challenged.

The result was an outcry from journalists: Odierno was too harsh, he was alienating the population. The model was supposed to be the kinder, gentler approach taken by the British, or by US commanders in areas that welcomed Saddam’s removal.

But the Baathist heartland that backed Saddam had never felt the war, which was fought down south, in the Shia provinces. The Sunni-Arabs didn’t feel defeated. They just felt cheated.

Ray Odierno fixed that.

His reward was to be pilloried as an uncomprehending brute who didn’t understand the new age of conflict. One bestseller cast him as the prime villain in our mission in Iraq.

But journalists think tactically – the news business just wants to get the headline out. Few paused to analyze long-term strategic effects – nor was the press equipped with the experience to do so.

Fortunately, our defense establishment recognized Odierno’s worth and ignored the clamor, promoting him from two stars to three, then to four. Today, he’s our senior commander in Iraq. And events have fully vindicated him.

Where did Iraq’s turnaround begin? Precisely where Odierno had demonstrated that America’s soldiers can’t and won’t be defeated, as well as in the areas occupied by our Marines – who were also condemned for being “heavy-handed.” When they wearied of al Qaeda, the Sunni Arabs needed to know they could count on the combat skills and grit of our troops. They knew it because Odierno and his 4th ID had taught them that painful lesson.

And where are Iraq’s remaining problems today? Centered on the city of Mosul, where another commander’s soft touch and vaunted “understanding” allowed the insurgents and terrorists to put down roots.

Things also went to the dogs down south, around Basra, whence the British had lectured us about “the right way to do this sort of thing,” while hiding in a base they feared to leave. While the Sunni tribes “flipped” to our side, not a single Shia tribe went over to the Brits.

Because they didn’t believe the Brits could or would fight beside them. Basra, which had fallen under the sway of Iranian-backed militias, was only freed of terror when the Iraqi army went in and did the job.

Far from being the clumsy giant caricatured by journalists who never served in the military, Odierno was the gut-instinct, hard-charging commander who did what needed to be done. He laid the groundwork for the success of the surge three years before Washington grasped the essentials.

Many other soldiers and Marines had a hand in the ultimate turnaround in Iraq. And the Iraqis themselves still have a long way to go to make the most of the gift of freedom they’ve been handed. But when all of the snap judgments have been exposed as wrong and unjust, history will remember Gen. Ray Odierno as the soldier who got it right.

If you’re one of the diminishing number of Americans who visit our military cemeteries or the local graves with miniature flags on Memorial Day, be proud, as you honor the fallen, that we still have a few fighting generals who would rather kill our enemies than bury their own. ExileStreet

NY Post / copyright 2009 NY Post

Ralph Peters is a retired Army officer and former enlisted man.

Ralph Peters is Fox News’ strategic analyst. His latest book is “Looking For Trouble: Adventures in a Broken World.”

Peters is the author of 19 books, as well as of hundreds of essays and articles, written both under his own name and as Owen Parry. He is a frequent columnist for the New York Post and other publications.

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