Ray Odierno: The Commander in Iraq Is Leaving His Mark

General Odierno is one of America's Best Leaders because he has led troops through harm's way.

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Gen. Ray Odierno, commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, grew up among veterans. His father served in the Army in Hawaii during World War II, and his father-in-law (whose daughter was Odierno's high school sweetheart) served in the Navy on D-Day. "They talked about what that meant to them," he says. "And they did it without any fanfare."

As Odierno, 55, began studying at West Point, two historical figures soon stood out. Ulysses S. Grant "was doubted many times during the Civil War," Odierno says. "But he thought that what he was doing was the right thing." Odierno has reflected on that lesson often in Iraq. "Not everyone has agreed with what we were trying to do," he says.

Odierno has also scrutinized the career of George Marshall. "He understood fighting" as well as politics. "Those qualities were something I wanted." In Iraq, he applies them. "The military solution cannot solve our problems," he says. "It must be a civil-military solution."

Previous bosses also left their mark. Lt. Gen. Paul Funk and Gen. Leon LaPorte "taught me how you act as a general officer." Gen. Eric Shinseki set an example for "compassion for soldiers and for standing up for what you believe is right." From his young soldiers, he has learned that "if you empower them, they will accomplish an awful lot."

One of these young leaders was Odierno's son Anthony, who lost his left arm in Iraq in 2004. "His determination and his love for his soldiers have been an inspiration to me," Odierno says. So, too, has Linda, his wife of 33 years. "She has done every level of volunteerism possible—and has made me a more caring person."