A Farewell to Arms
An officer and a gentleman retires
It's hard to know what the enduring public image of Gen. Richard B. Myers, who retired last week as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, will be. In stark contrast to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, known for jousting with the press, Myers was always a model of decorum. The wartime chief was polite and patient with reporters, the voice of calm at Pentagon briefings compared with Rumsfeld's often acerbic cracks. "The face that Dick Myers puts forward to the world," says a former aide, "is his real face." Whether on the road or at the Pentagon, Myers, 63, never lost his cool during a four-year tenure that began shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. He also kept his sense of humor. During one trip to South America, I recall the lanky general gamely smacking a pinata with the rest of his staff at a 50th-birthday celebration for his secretary on his C-17 aircraft.
Myers rarely pulled rank, patiently lining up at Starbucks for his favorite skim decaf mocha whip. At the hundreds of dinners he held at Quarters Six, his Fort Myer, Va., home, guests marveled at his ability to introduce each attendee at length without notes. Aides say he routinely worked 80-hour weeks but still made time for personal gestures. After one memorial service for fallen servicemen and -women, an aide told Myers that he didn't have to stick around to talk to family members. His reply: "Why wouldn't I?"
Critics complain that Myers was too deferential. Some say he should have resigned when the White House spurned what they considered sound military advice--like his former Army chief Eric Shinseki's call for tens of thousands more troops in Iraq. A Pentagon official says Myers made his views known behind closed doors. But did he ever contemplate quitting in protest? Chances are we won't know until the archives are opened, because Myers is not one to play kiss and tell.
This story appears in the October 10, 2005 print edition of U.S. News & World Report.