By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
Sept. 15, 2008 - Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates today recognized Army Gen. David H. Petraeus and U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan C. Crocker, a military-and-civilian team the secretary said has transformed Iraq. Before a dinner in their honor today, Gates presented Petraeus with the Defense Distinguished Service Medal and presented Crocker with the Department of Defense Medal for Distinguished Civilian Service – the department's highest civilian award.
Gates said he has never seen a better military-civilian team in his 42 years of government service.
"Under their leadership, Iraq has been utterly transformed," the secretary said. "Their individual leadership and accomplishments are stunning, and also self-evident."
Petraeus turns over command of Multinational Force Iraq to Army Gen. Raymond T. Odierno tomorrow. The general took over command in Baghdad in February 2007, when the country seemed to be on the brink of civil war. Coalition servicemembers were taking high casualties, and the Iraqi people were under attack from al-Qaida in Iraq, criminal groups and Iranian-backed illegal militias.
He leaves to take over U.S. Central Command with the level of violence in the country reduced by 80 percent.
"It is safe to say we have not seen an American military and civilian capability combined this effectively since post-war Germany," Gates said. "Our nation has the remarkable ability to put forward the right people at the right time in fateful situations -- to find leaders who are able to do what many consider impossible. You two are such men."
The award for Crocker stated that his efforts allowed "the joint and combined diplomatic effort to re-energize the Iraqi political process, revitalize the Iraqi economy, improve national security and engage regional nations diplomatically."
Crocker worked closely with military leaders to formulate near- and long-term campaign strategy in Iraq.
The award took Crocker by surprise. He thanked Gates for the honor and said of his 18 months in Iraq that "there is no one I would have rather gone through it with than Dave Petraeus, and there is literally no one who could have done better than Dave Petraeus."
The ambassador said the achievements in Iraq are the result not of his efforts, but those of the people he led at the embassy and the servicemembers who did the tough work.
"Above all, they have been the achievements of the Iraqis themselves," he said. "When given the chance, they took it, moved forward, paid a huge price and helped create and then consolidate the security gains we now see."
Petraeus thanked Gates for his efforts in Washington on behalf of those serving in Iraq. Petraeus said Gates made tough calls in a timely manner, such as the 15-month deployment for Army personnel deployed in the U.S. Central Command area of operations, generating more intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets and pushing through production of mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicles.
"These were critical ingredients in enabling what our troopers and Iraqi partners have been able to do here," Petraeus said.
Petraeus called Crocker "America's finest Arabist, and the greatest diplomat of his generation."