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The Kansas City Star October 1, 2005

Myers ends turbulent tenure atop military

By Lee Hill Kavanaugh

The most powerful man in the Pentagon, a former Kansan, retired Friday.

After 40 years in the military, Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers, 63, stepped down as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, a position he had held since fall 2001.

As the president’s chief military adviser, Myers, a graduate of Shawnee Mission North High School and Kansas State University, oversaw the military in a turbulent time.

He took the job weeks after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and helped devise a strategy to fight terrorism. He became the face of the military in wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

His successor as chairman of joint chiefs is Marine Gen. Peter Pace, 59, the first member of the Corps to hold the post.

In a farewell ceremony Friday at Fort Myer in Arlington, Va., President Bush hailed Myers’ work. But he said it was Myers’ other qualities — his humor, his calm in crises and his devotion to men and women in the military — that he would miss the most.

“He’s a kind and humble man who believes in serving a cause greater than himself. It says something that for all the medals on his chest and the stars on his shoulder, one of his proudest accomplishments came last summer when he was named National Father of the Year,” Bush said.

Bush recalled that Myers’ former bosses described him as “a level-headed guy. He doesn’t panic, he eats pressure for breakfast and he doesn’t have a personal agenda.”

Myers grew up in Merriam and graduated from Shawnee Mission North in 1960.

He earned a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from Kansas State in 1965 and a master’s in business administration from Auburn University.

Myers entered the Air Force in 1965 and was a fighter pilot in Vietnam and a squadron and fighter-wing commander. He became commander of U.S. air forces in the Pacific and then in Japan. He was commander in chief of the North American Aerospace Defense Command before moving to his joint chiefs assignments.

Myers led the military through criticism of the Iraq war and scandals such as the one surrounding the abuse of detainees at Baghdad’s Abu Ghraib prison.

“If you look back, it was such a hard task,” Myers said Friday on NBC’s “Today” show. “There are a lot of things you look back and say, ‘I wish I would have done this instead of done that.’ ”

On CBS’ “The Early Show,” he defended the effort in Iraq: “The stories aren’t getting it right, and I guess … we’re going to have to try to keep explaining it until people understand that the Iraqi forces have come so far in the year we have been working on this.”

Regardless of the accolades from the president, Myers’ true record of successes or failures is still to be determined, said military analyst John Pike, director of GlobalSecurity.org.

“He was in the chain of command, so he gets credit for all the successes and blame for all the failures,” said Pike, who said that as an Air Force general, Myers might not have been prepared to launch a ground war of Army forces in Iraq.

“Someone will write his biography, and then we’ll hear about what he thinks of these things. …We have to wait for the judgment of history.”


Copyright 2005, The Kansas City Star