Tuesday, August 14, 2007

General Petraeus
Mike Rappaport

Some interesting information about General Petraeus in Peggy Noonan's most recent column.  First, his background:

Gen. Petraeus graduated from West Point in 1974, 10th in his class, and his career has been the very model of the new Army: a master's in public administration, Ph.D. in the lessons of Vietnam, a fellowship in foreign affairs at Georgetown. Wrote the book, literally, on counterterrorism. Ten months in Bosnia. Time in Kuwait. Fought in Iraq, in Karbala, Hilla and Najaf, and became known and admired for rebuilding and administrating Mosul.

Second, this incident where a doctor saved his life from a gunshot wound.

It happened on Sept. 21, 1991. A soldier tripped on his M-16, and it discharged. The bullet hit Gen. Petraeus in the chest.  He was taken to Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville. A local surgeon got beeped and called in.  [Gen. Patraeus] had lost a lot of blood, was pale, and was losing more.

The surgeon had to decide whether to open Gen. Petraeus up right away or stabilize him. The general was conscious, so the surgeon said, "Listen, I gotta make a decision about whether to take you straight to surgery or stabilize you first, give you blood." Gen. Petraeus looked up at the surgeon and said, "Don't waste any time. Get it done. Let's get on with it." "That's unusual", the surgeon told me. "Usually patients want to stabilize, wait." This one wanted to move.

At this point I'll note that the surgeon that day 16 years ago was Dr. Bill Frist, who later became Sen. Frist, and then Majority Leader Frist. He had never met Gen. Petraeus before.

Dr. Frist got Gen. Petraeus to the third-floor operating room, opened his chest, removed a flattened bullet that had torn through the top of a lung, stopped the hemorrhaging, took out part of a lung. The operation was successful.


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Mike Rappaport


Michael Yon actually mentions the discharge incident in one of his despatches.

Back when LTC Johnson was Captain Johnson, and General Petraeus was Colonel Petraeus, Colonel Petraeus was Captain Johnson’s new commander. They were doing a live-fire exercise at a range at Fort Campbell when a young soldier named Specialist Terrence Jones tripped and accidentally fired his weapon while conducting a live-fire assault. The bullet from Specialist Jones’ weapon struck Colonel Petraeus, slamming through his chest and taking a piece of his back on the way out. Petraeus fell to the ground, bleeding out of his mouth. He nearly died. We could have lost one of the most important and influential military leaders in generations to a mistake. To a professional misstep.

The best that Captain Johnson and Specialist Jones might have hoped for was a painless end to their military service. I asked LTC Fred Johnson about the story of his own soldier shooting David Petraeus, and I asked how it could be that Johnson was still in the military. Johnson looked me in the eye and said something like, “Mike. You know what Petraeus did?”

“What?” I asked.

“He gave me a second chance.”

Fred Johnson actually got picked up for promotion early.

“But what happened to the young soldier?” I asked, thinking surely there had to be a consequence. Conventional wisdom stipulates that for balance to be restored after accidentally shooting and nearly killing a superior officer, a sacrifice of some magnitude is necessary. A soldier just can’t shoot a commander in the chest and walk away. There is no such thing as an “accidental discharge.” Unplanned bullet launches are called “negligent discharges.” As in negligent homicide.

LTC Johnson answered something like, “Mike, you won’t believe how Jones was punished. Petraeus sent Jones to Ranger School.”

I couldn’t believe my ears! That’s a punishment that a lot of young soldiers dream about, even though Ranger School is a very difficult course. But after thinking on it awhile, I realized it probably explains why LTC Johnson sometimes says, “I believe in second chances.”

Posted by: anon | Aug 26, 2007 7:25:09 AM

Sorry, everything after the first line was meant to be blockquoted.

Posted by: anon | Aug 26, 2007 7:26:05 AM