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Stars and Stripes June 14, 2006

Sanchez enters third year at helm of V Corps

By Nancy Montgomery

HEIDELBERG, Germany — Today marks the third year Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez has been in command of V Corps.

No other general has commanded the corps for so long in its 88 years of existence.

The milestone isn’t being publicly celebrated, however, or even officially acknowledged.

“Why would you have a ceremony for somebody being in command?” said Hilde Patton, a V Corps spokeswoman, after she was asked if an event was being planned. “There’s no set time limit [for how long a commander stays in place].”

But a list of V Corps commanders since 1918 shows that most held command for about two years or less. Just a few stayed on past two years, and none, other than Sanchez, lasted three years.

“That’s a claim to fame,” said John Pike, director of GlobalSecurity.org, regarding Sanchez’s unusually long tenure.

With his headquarters unit and nearly 40 percent of his troops in Iraq under the command of another general, and while transformation sends others back to the U.S., Sanchez’s remaining as V Corps commander could appear an awkward reminder of the Abu Ghraib scandal that seems to have capped his military career.

But it could also be seen as an indicator of Sanchez’s utility to the Army.

“It’s a long time in a big job in a country at war,” said Pike, whose online organization offers expertise in defense, military and intelligence policy.

“The fact that a lot of his soldiers are chopped to somebody else doesn’t mean V Corps is going out of business,” Pike said. “There’s probably more turbulence — that is to say, more need for management, than at any time since the Cold War.

“You have all these units being reconfigured. All these headquarters units would have to have their hands full,” Pike said. “I assume he’s not sitting around reading old magazines.”

Whatever his plans are remain known only to Sanchez and and those closest to him. Reached by e-mail Tuesday, he declined to comment.

He has repeatedly declined to comment about his future, including to the New York Times in January when the Times, quoting unnamed Pentagon sources, said Sanchez planned to retire — probably this summer and after 33 years in the Army — rather than endure a Senate confirmation fight over any new assignment.

The summer time frame was rumored to be connected to the high school graduation of Sanchez’s son.

Sanchez, the nation’s top-ranking Hispanic soldier — with an inspiring, boot-straps biography — was being considered as late as last summer for promotion to four stars and command of military operations in Latin America, the Times said. But “the legacy of Abu Ghraib and its photographs of prisoner mistreatment … dogged General Sanchez and ensured that any promotion would ignite a political storm on Capitol Hill.”

As the war has continued into its fourth year, and with recent criminal investigations into the killings of Iraqi civilians by a group of U.S. Marines bringing comparisons to Abu Ghraib, the political situation for Sanchez has not improved.

Sanchez’s expected successor, Lt. Gen. Peter Chiarelli, is currently commanding V Corps headquarters — and day-to-day operations in Iraq — as head of Multi-National Corps Iraq. Chiarelli’s wife and the families of the officers he brought with him from his command of the 1st Cavalry Division now reside in the Heidelberg area, presumably awaiting their January return.

But sometimes predicting who’ll succeed Sanchez is tricky.

Maj. Gen. John Batiste, for instance, was assigned in the spring of 2005 as an unprecedented, second V Corps deputy commander. Most observers assumed that meant Batiste would be promoted to lieutenant general in Iraq and then become V Corps commander.

But Batiste changed his mind, retired instead and became one of a group of retired generals urging the sacking of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who, Batiste says, has mismanaged the war.

Sanchez, too, surprised some observers when he bluntly told the soldiers during the January deployment ceremony for V Corps headquarters that Iraq was a different environment than when he commanded there and was now “on the verge of civil war.”

The General Officer Management Office (GOMO) announces moves of general officers. When there’s to be a change of command, the office announces it in advance. Retirements are announced afterward, usually in the same month in which they occur.

There has been no word from GOMO on Sanchez. Asked whether one was forthcoming, an official there said, “Negative.”

Copyright 2006, Stars and Stripes