Multi-National Corps-Iraq welcomes new commander
January 20, 2006
BAGHDAD — Nine months after the end of his first tour in Iraq, Lt. Gen. Peter W. Chiarelli assumed command of Multi-National Corps-Iraq at a Camp Victory ceremony Thursday morning.
Chiarelli, who commanded the 1st Cavalry Division in Iraq, will lead V Corps troops for their second tour in control of day-to-day operations in the country. Chiarelli replaces Lt. Gen. John R. Vines, commander of the XVIII Airborne Corps.
“It’s like seeing a friend’s child who was 4 the last time you saw him and is 14 now,” Chiarelli said in a brief interview after the ceremony, comparing Iraq now to the Iraq he left.
“You think, ‘My gosh, you’ve grown,’ but the parents don’t notice as much because they see their kid every day.”
Chiarelli said the focus of the coming year in Iraq will be training Iraqi security forces, along with building on the political momentum spurred by last year’s series of elections. He “reconned” Iraq during the December election and has spent the past 10 days visiting various commands and units throughout the country, he said.
Chiarelli joins many servicemembers now on their second or third tours in Iraq. When asked if military leaders were trying to deploy particular units to the areas they were before in order to capitalize on the local knowledge and relationships they had gained in their first year, he said it was a tough option.
“It’s not always possible because of the rotation schedules,” he said. “But hopefully, you’ll see fewer and fewer units coming back again.”
The ceremony, presided over by Multi-National Force-Iraq Commander Gen. George W. Casey Jr., offered both a look forward and back.
“If you think about where you were and about what you were thinking on Jan. 19 last year, the prospects … might have looked dim to you,” Casey said, before ticking off a list of accomplishments, including the elections and the training of 200,000 Iraqi security forces.
“You made a difference in Iraq last year,” he told soldiers of the XVIII Airborne Corps, “and you should be justifiably proud.”
For his part, Vines said the elections proved the Iraqis have “rejected” insurgents and decided “Iraq should be about and for Iraqis, not foreign ideologies.”
“The stakes cannot be higher … it is a choice between a way of life and a terrorist ideology.”
Vines also paused to remember servicemembers who had been killed and wounded in the past year, saying the troops with “blood-shot eyes from too little sleep and watching terrain … with a knot in the pit of their stomachs … these are the real heroes today.”
“We will return to our friends, family and loved ones,” Vines said. “But we will never forget you, forget Iraq or forget what happened here.”