Raymond Odierno, a US general who commanded American and coalition forces in Iraq at the height of the war and capped a 39-year career by serving as chief of staff of the army, has died, his family said on Saturday. He was 67.
“The general died after a brave battle with cancer; his death was not related to Covid,” a statement said. “His family is grateful for the concern and asks for privacy.”
Odierno died on Friday. The family declined to say where. It said funeral and interment information was not yet available.
A native of Rockaway, New Jersey, Odierno graduated from the US Military Academy at West Point, New York in 1976, with a commission in field artillery.
He served in a wide range of roles, with tours abroad including Iraq, Germany, Albania and Kuwait. As a three-star general he was assistant to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, a job that made him the main military adviser to the secretary of state.
Odierno served three tours in Iraq, capped by two years, from 2008 to 2010, as top US commander in Baghdad. He was succeeded in that post by Gen Lloyd Austin, now secretary of defense. Odierno was commander of Multi-National Corps-Iraq from 2006 to 2008.
When Odierno retired in 2015 he was succeeded as army chief of staff by Gen Mark Milley, the current chairman of the joint chiefs.
At a ceremony marking Odierno’s retirement, the then defense secretary, Ashton Carter, described him as a commander whose tenacity and operational savvy gave civilian leaders great confidence.
“His commanding presence calmed the confused and his courage and compassion helped carry the burden of loss and sacrifice,” Carter said.
Soldiers of Odierno’s 4th Infantry Division were involved in the capture of Saddam Hussein in December 2003. That gave hope to quashing an emerging insurgency, but in 2004 the insurgency gained momentum.
Reporting Odierno’s death, the Washington Post said Odierno was “an imposing figure, at 6ft 5in and 250lbs, with a shaved head [who] had an affable nature and developed a strong rapport with his troops. He was considered one of the army’s most capable battlefield leaders.”
He was, the paper said, “a key architect of the ‘surge’ in US forces [later in] the Iraq war that was credited with reducing violence and increasing stability in the country”.
The Post also quoted the journalist and military historian Thomas Ricks, who in his 2006 history of the invasion and early occupation of Iraq, Fiasco, wrote: “Odierno’s brigades and battalions earned a reputation for being overly aggressive.
“Again and again, internal army reports and commanders in interviews said [the 4th Infantry Division] used ham-fisted approaches that may have appeared to pacify its area in the short term, but in the process alienated large parts of the population.”
Three months ago, North Carolina State University announced that Odierno had joined its board of trustees. During his military career he earned a Master of Science degree in nuclear effects engineering from North Carolina State. He was president of Odierno Associates, a consulting firm in Pinehurst, North Carolina.