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David Petraeus
David Petraeus
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David Petraeus Biography

Strategic Military Leadership

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  David Petraeus

David Petraeus was born and raised in Cornwall, New York, a few miles up the Hudson River from the United States Military Academy at West Point. His mother was a librarian; his father was a Dutch sea captain who had fled the German occupation of the Netherlands in World War II. After the war, Petraeus senior worked in a power plant. A great emphasis was placed on both academics and athletics in the Petraeus household, and David Petraeus excelled in both.

David Petraeus Biography Photo
The influence of West Point was strongly felt in the community, and although he was accepted at other colleges, when he won a coveted appointment to West Point, David Petraeus gladly joined the United States Corps of Cadets. He continued to excel at West Point, following the demanding pre-med curriculum and competing in soccer and downhill skiing. Although he did well in his science courses, by his senior year he realized he did not have a calling for medicine and sought commission as an infantry officer. He graduated in the top five percent of his class and received his commission as a second lieutenant in the United States Army. Shortly after graduation, he married Holly Knowlton, the daughter of General William Knowlton, Superintendent of the Military Academy. The couple would raise a son and a daughter while enduring all the challenges and upheavals of a career in the military.

After leaving West Point, David Petraeus continued to distinguish himself as a soldier and scholar. He was first in his class at the physically grueling Army Ranger School, where he won all three of the top awards, including the William O. Darby Award, named for the officer who led the first unit of Army Rangers during World War II. Petraeus spent most of the next decade serving in infantry and mechanized units in the U.S. and Europe, and received the first of many promotions.

David Petraeus Biography Photo
He was first in his class again at the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, and subsequently earned MPA and Ph.D. degrees in International Relations from the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University. While writing his dissertation on "The American Military and the Lessons of Vietnam," he returned to West Point as Assistant Professor of International Relations.

Petraeus honed his administrative skills in a series of staff positions. He served as military assistant to General John Galvin, the Supreme Allied Commander in Europe (SACEUR), as assistant executive officer to General Carlo Vuono, the Army Chief of Staff, and as executive assistant to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Hugh Shelton. Over the course of these assignments, he rose from lieutenant colonel to brigadier general.

In his 37 years in the Army, Petraeus held leadership positions in airborne, mechanized, and air assault infantry units in Europe, the United States, and the Middle East. He acquired invaluable expertise in the arts of post-conflict reconstruction, serving as Chief of Operations of the United Nations Force in Haiti, and Assistant Chief of Staff for Operations of the NATO Stabilization Force in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

David Petraeus Biography Photo
In 2003, Petraeus, now a major general, commanded the 101st Airborne Division in the assault on Baghdad. This campaign was recounted by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Rick Atkinson in his book, In the Company of Soldiers. Tasked with the occupation and pacification of the Iraqi city of Mosul after the collapse of the Iraqi regular forces, General Petraeus set the standard for executing successful counterinsurgency operations: restoring security, building a local security force, rebuilding the city's university and other institutions, and organizing the region's first free elections. Promoted to lieutenant general, he was given command of the multi-national Security Transition Command Iraq. In 15 months, his command executed a massive reconstruction project, and trained and equipped 100,000 Iraq Security Forces, the largest operation of its kind since World War II. During this period, Petraeus published articles in the military and civilian press sharing the insights he had gained in counterinsurgency and reconstruction.

After returning to the United States, General Petraeus was appointed Commanding General at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, where he also oversaw the Command and General Staff College. At Leavenworth, Petraeus and Marine General James Mattis assembled an unprecedented team of experts from military officers, scholars, journalists and human rights advocates to research and compile a new army field manual for counterinsurgency operations, 3-24: Counterinsurgency. After integrating the new material into staff training and field operations, Petraeus refined the essentials of the new teaching in his landmark treatise Commander's Counterinsurgency Guidance, now studied around the world.

David Petraeus Biography Photo
In 2007, deteriorating conditions in Iraq called for a change in strategy, and President George W. Bush chose General Petraeus to lead a renewed effort, designated "the Surge." The President, with the Senate's unanimous approval, promoted Petraeus to four-star general and named him commander of the Multi-National Force-Iraq. The year that followed saw a marked reduction in sectarian violence and in attacks on U.S. personnel. Professional Iraqi security forces took the place of irregular Shiite militias in Baghdad, while tribal leaders in Sunni-dominated areas turned against Al-Qaeda terrorists who had attempted to build bases there. Petraeus's skillful turnaround of an apparently hopeless situation made him the most admired leader in the United States military, one who enjoyed enthusiastic support from political leaders of both parties. His awards and decorations include four awards of the Defense Distinguished Service Medal, three awards of the Distinguished Service Medal, the Bronze Star Medal for valor, and the State Department Distinguished Service Award.

David Petraeus Biography Photo
He assumed leadership of the United States Central Command in 2008, taking responsibility for all U.S. military operations in the Middle East, until President Barack Obama tapped him to directly lead U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan. With the end of the U.S. combat role in Iraq and the winding down of military involvement in Afghanistan, President Obama called on Petraeus to serve in a civilian capacity for the first time. After 37 years of uniformed service, General Petraeus retired from the U.S. Army, and with the unanimous approval of the United States Senate, assumed duties as the 20th Director of the Central Intelligence Agency.

As CIA Director, General Petraeus was responsible for human intelligence, covert operations, counterintelligence, relations with foreign intelligence services, and open source collection programs on behalf of the entire intelligence community and the U.S. government.

In November 2012, Petraeus admitted to an extramarital affair with a female journalist, and resigned his position at the CIA. Petraeus publicly shared his disappointment in his own private conduct, but by resigning immediately, he spared the agency and the nation the embarrassment and distraction of a prolonged scandal. After leaving office, he pled guilty to a misdemeanor charge of mishandling classified information in connection with the affair.

David Petraeus Biography Photo
Since leaving public life, David Petraeus has accepted a visiting professorship at the Macaulay Honors College of the City University of New York and an endowed professorship at the University of Southern California. He is also a non-resident Senior Fellow at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government. A partner at the investment firm Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co. L.P., he chairs the firm's KKR Global Institute, which researches investment opportunities in new locations.

Today, David and Holly Petraeus maintain homes in Northern Virginia and Springfield, New Hampshire. Their son Stephen is a United States Army officer who has served with an airborne infantry combat team in Afghanistan. The tradition of military service runs strong in the Petraeus family. Holly Petraeus is the not only the daughter, wife, sister and mother of U.S. army officers; her grandfather and great-grandfather also served. She has made a personal cause of assuring that military families are fairly treated by their nation's financial services industry. For many years, she taught financial education classes to service members and their families. After serving as director of the federal government's Better Business Bureau Military Line, Holly Petraeus accepted an appointment by President Obama in 2011 to direct the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau's Office of Servicemember Affairs. Her office promotes financial education and combats the predatory lending practices that pose a special risk to military families. In addition to his professional and academic commitments, David Petraeus serves on the boards of numerous nonprofits, including American Corporate Partners, which connects Iraq and Afghanistan veterans to business professionals for career guidance.

This page last revised on Apr 10, 2015 12:18 EDT
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