Before President Barack Obama removed him from his high-profile Afghanistan command Wednesday, Gen. Stanley McChrystal had a distinguished military career that included a stop at Fort Lewis.
In late 1994, when he was a lieutenant colonel, McChrystal became commander of the 2nd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment. He was assigned to the local post until June 1996.
Retired Maj. Gen John Hemphill, one of the South Sound’s fraternity of retired generals, recalls seeing McChrystal out “running with his men in the streets of Steilacoom.”
Hemphill said in an interview Wednesday that the sacking of McChrystal means the loss of a first-rate soldier.
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“I know Stan McChrystal and know that he is honest, hardworking ... a good soldier who does the right thing and is not political in his outlook,” said Hemphill, who served in Korea and Vietnam and now lives in Steilacoom.
“I feel sorry for Stan,” he said. “He is not a politician.”
Hemphill said he knew McChrystal as a soldier’s soldier who even as a general would prefer to spend time in the field with his troops rather than sit behind a desk. As a lieutenant general in charge of special operations forces at Fort Bragg, N.C., McCrystal traveled to Iraq and Afghanistan to be with his soldiers, Hemphill said. Even so, when news of McChrystal’s published comments about the White House went public this week, the president was left with little choice other than taking stern action, Hemphill said.
“McChrystal took his stand and is a big enough boy to take his medicine,” Hemphill said. “I think Stan did a good job, but politically, he can’t stay. We have a Constitution that says who is the commander in chief.”
Hemphill earned the Distinguished Service Cross as a young lieutenant in Korea and went on to lead a battalion and then a brigade in Vietnam. He and his wife, Peggy, settled in Steilacoom after he retired in 1985.
As for Gen. David Petraeus, the new Afghanistan commander, Hemphill said Wednesday he has a lot of respect for him, but also feels badly for him. Hemphill has been openly critical of the administration’s Afghanistan policy, including the timetable for withdrawing troops.
The retired two-star general said the unfortunate lesson of Afghanistan, like that of Vietnam, is that politicians staying in power takes precedence over the armed forces being successful. “He is a great soldier and a great statesman,” Hemphill said of Petraeus, “and they are putting him into the graveyard of empires.”