The thunderous sound of a 21-gun salute echoed across Washington and Northern Virginia as Gen. Peter W. Chiarelli retired from the Army at a ceremony held Jan. 31 at Joint Base Myer – Henderson Hall.
Chiarelli, who served in the Army for 40 years, was the service’s vice chief of staff for the past three years.
The event was hosted by the Army chief of staff, Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, and attended by lawmakers, Department of Defense and Army officials and senior military officers.
Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta used the Italian phrase "buon uomo," meaning "good man," to describe Chiarelli, a man he includes among his friends.
Panetta said it is the strength and fortitude of men like Chiarelli that make the United States Army the greatest in the world.
He also said former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates saw in Chiarelli a depth of knowledge, skill and passion for soldiers and their families that led the former secretary to choose Chiarelli to serve as his "right hand man" and senior military assistant before becoming vice chief.
In that role, Chiarelli would inform Gates on a full range of pressing security matters. He would also advise the secretary on how his decisions would impact service members on the battlefield.
"If there is one thing that has been the hallmark of Pete’s career, it is the depth of his concern for the welfare of every soldier," Panetta said.
Panetta said Gates knew that, "as long as there where soldiers in harm’s way, as long as there was a single Army family in need, Pete would not rest. And for more than three years, Pete has not rested. Pete, you have earned a time of peace, a time for family," he said.
Odierno thanked the Chiarelli family for their support – including both his children and wife, Beth, who stood by him during a 40-year military career and through 25 permanent change-of-station moves.
"As an Army wife and mother you have made many sacrifices," Odierno said.
Adding, "I believe this observance is trivial compared to all you have given us. As we all know, soldiering is a family affair, and there’s no better example to us than the Chiarelli family."
Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the media their headline should read: "We have never had a finer man in uniform than Pete Chiarelli."
Dempsey described Chiarelli’s innovativeness and skill as an officer, and also his character as a person. The two men have known each other for their entire careers.
Dempsey also said Chiarelli has long carried the mantle as being one of the best trainers in the Army. He said when Chiarelli’s 1st Cavalry Division was being sent to Baghdad to take over operations, he sent his staff to Austin, Texas, to learn how city officials there run the city.
Dempsey said. "He is a giant of a man in every way – inside and out. I couldn't be prouder to call you my friend."
Secretary of the Army John McHugh said he is reluctant to see great men like Chiarelli leave the service.
And, for that reason, McHugh said as a member of Congress he never supported term limits, "because we have in this great man an example of someone who has much more to give."
McHugh concluded his remarks by comparing Chiarelli to the patch of the 1st Cavalry Division, which the Chiarelli wore into combat.
The insignia of the 1st Cav. is the Army’s largest patch. McHugh said Chiarelli has done "big things" for the Army.
Adding, "Big in principles, big in heart and big in faith, and as you know he has done incredibly big things that have made this Army better."
Chiarelli spoke about his career from Fort Knox to his arrival in Washington.
He talked about his father, a WWII veteran who received a battlefield commission and who was awarded a Silver Star of heroism.
He also spoke passionately of soldiers and the contributions they have made to the country.
"They are not just steely-eyed killers," Chiarell said.
Soldiers, he said, are now playing many roles, including diplomat, mayor, economist, city engineer, liaison, trainer and farmer.
"Over the past decade they have made a tremendous difference in the lives of people living and working in both theaters," he said. "I am incredibly and profoundly proud of all they have accomplished."
He became emotional when he spoke of the 650 soldiers he lost under his command in Iraq.
"I would trade all the medals and ribbons on my chest and every bit of rank to get just one of them back," he explained.
Chiarelli was commissioned from the University of Seattle as a second lieutenant of armor through the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps Program in September 1972, and has since commanded troops at every level from platoon to corps.
Chiarelli is a seasoned war veteran with two combat tours in Iraq.
During Operation Iraqi Freedom II, he led the 1st Cavalry Division into battle, and later returned to command Multi-National Corps–Iraq.
He then came to Washington to serve as the senior military assistant to former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates from March 2007 to August 2008.
At the Pentagon, he worked tirelessly to build an Army that is more resilient than ever.
Chiarelli is noted for his efforts to care for wounded warriors, by advocating for better care for those suffering from what he often refers to as the "signature wounds" of these conflicts – Traumatic Brain Injury and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Chiarelli was also passionate about reducing the number of suicides among service members, and he led efforts to fix the problem.
He led the Army Suicide Prevention Task Force and the Army Suicide Prevention Counsel, which together transformed how the service manages health promotion and risk reduction programs and service.
But Chiarelli’s career was more than just caring for soldiers; Chiarelli was recognized for his service to the Army as a whole.
During the ceremony he was awarded the Defense Distinguished Service Medal for guiding the Army through the nation's longest war, and for doing so with an all-volunteer force and diminishing resources.
He also led the Army through the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure, which reshaped the Army’s infrastructure.
In a final message to the troops, Chiarelli commended soldiers for their accomplishments in Afghanistan and Iraq, saying that over the past decade they have done an "absolutely magnificent job fighting two wars in difficult and demanding environments."
Chiarelli also pointed out that Army leader and health care providers have made meaningful strides in their ongoing efforts to improve the health and discipline of the Army.
"The reality is we have never been more prepared to take care of soldiers and families in a post-war era. We must maintain this momentum and ensure we take care of our most precious asset: our people," he wrote.
Adding, "If we all continue to do our part – reach out – help connect individuals with the tremendous outpouring of support services and resources available to them, we can help heal wounds, enable opportunity, and ultimately achieve a stronger, more capable Army for the future."
Gen. Gordon R. Sullivan, USA, Ret., president of the Association of the United States Army, said of Chiarelli: "AUSA expresses its appreciation and gratitude to General Pete Chiarelli, a combat-tested leader who commanded the 1st Cavalry Division in Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom and the Multi-National Corps – Iraq.
"As the Army’s vice chief of staff, he added a new and dynamic aspect to this position by ensuring – on a day-to-day basis – that our returning soldiers received the best medical care for both their physical and mental wounds.
"He has touched the lives of many soldiers and their families with many new initiatives."
Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III has been chosen as Chiarelli’s successor as vice chief of staff. See related story on Page 18.
(Editor’s note: This story is based on an article by Master Sgt. Doug Sample, Army News Service.)