WASHINGTON – Gen. Peter Chiarelli retired Tuesday, stepping aside as Army vice chief of staff but insisting that in civilian life he’d continue working to improve care for what he called “the signature wounds of this war” – post-traumatic stress and traumatic brain injury.
Chiarelli, 61, who was honored in a ceremony at Joint Base Meyer-Henderson Hall, Va., led a task force to cut down the rising rate of soldier suicides and pushed to improve diagnosis and treatment for troops with invisible injuries.
“When former [Defense] Secretary [Robert] Gates promoted Pete to that post, he said that he knew that as long as there was a single soldier in harm’s way, as long as there was a single Army family in need, Pete would not rest,” Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said. “And for more than three years as vice chief of staff, Pete has not rested.”
Chiarelli said that while progress has been made – including a slight reduction in the overall Army suicide rate – work healing the strains of 10 years of war is far from over.
“We must, must, must continue” the efforts now in place, he said Tuesday.
Previously, Chiarelli served as senior military assistant to Gates and led the 1st Cavalry Division in Iraq, where he commanded Multinational Corps-Iraq.
Anyone who’s encountered Chiarelli downrange knows “he’s not just soft at heart, he’s been a fearless, tough, resolute commander,” Army Secretary John McHugh said Tuesday.
Though Chiarelli refers to himself a “tanker,” his focus in Iraq went far beyond mechanized combat. Prior to his deployment to Iraq, Chiarelli’s troops rehearsed municipal operations ranging from water and sewer treatment to trash collection. They put that knowledge into use in Iraq, and Chiarelli is credited with helping civil society regain a foothold there.
As vice chief, Chiarelli also tirelessly pushed for technological improvements that he said could improve the Army’s fighting ability and make soldiers safer. Chief among this was an Army network that could connect ground troops to top commanders via smartphones and other high-tech communications gear.
Gen. Lloyd Austin, the final commander of U.S. troops in Iraq, replaces Chiarelli as Army vice chief.