Gen. David Petraeus, the top commander in the Middle East, comes to BYU

Published: Thursday, March 25 2010 12:00 a.m. MDT

In fact, by the time news of his cancer broke in October 2009, Petraeus had already been through two months of radiation treatment at Walter Reed Army Medical Center and had the medical all-clear from his doctor, Iverson said.

"This guy is incredible," he said. "He just won't allow things like that to slow him down. He's focused on one thing: the mission and knowing all along that soldiers' lives depend on him being personally engaged and personally focused at every level, every day."

The son of a sea captain who emigrated from the Netherlands to America during World War II, Petraeus was raised in New York and graduated in 1974 from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in the top 5 percent of his class.

Soon after, he married the daughter of the superintendent of West Point. They have a son and a daughter.

Petraeus returned to West Point in 1985 and taught for two years in the social sciences department.

Retired Brigadier Gen. Amos Jordan, a senior fellow at BYU's Wheatley Institution, headed that department for 17 years, retiring two years before Petraeus graduated.

Jordan, who lives in Bountiful, also headed the Center for Strategic and International Studies for five years and has used his beefy Rolodex and personal relationships to secure several influential speakers for the BYU institution.

Although Jordan never taught Petraeus in a class at West Point, Petraeus attended several of Jordan's lectures.

When Jordan e-mailed Petraeus last summer about speaking, Petraeus promptly called him and was most accommodating. Since that time, they've had several chats, Jordan said.

"Petraeus is a very warm and outgoing, likeable person," Jordan said. "When you think of hard-charging military men, they're not normally associated with those qualities."

Jordan said Petraeus is both a successful combat commander and a people person because he is exceptionally intelligent, focused and hard working.

Petraeus has served in Haiti, Kuwait and Bosnia, but the bulk of his military experience comes from Iraq, where he served with the 101st Airborne Division, then as the commanding general of the Multi-National Force - Iraq for 19 months before being tapped to head U.S. Central Command in October 2008.

To ensure he stays sharp and focused, he fills his Commander's Initiative Group with intellectuals who think beyond the military sphere — people who, although handpicked, are not "yes-men," said Stephanie Sanok, a senior fellow with the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

"He surrounds himself with really smart people who are not afraid to disagree with him," she said. "The fact that he's welcoming different thoughts into his process has really done him well. That's why you're seeing the success."

Warriors and builders

As the leader of the "Screaming Eagles," Petraeus and his men in the 101st Airborne Division were some of the first soldiers to push through to Mosul and take the power and palaces from Saddam Hussein in March 2003.

Standing amid the rubble, Petraeus knew time was short before their army of liberation would be seen as an army of occupation.

He stressed to his soldiers over and over the importance of building relationships with the Iraqi people, who he called the "decisive terrain."

He wanted his troops to understand Iraqi culture and conduct military affairs with as much common courtesy as possible — knock on doors before searching a home and afterward thank the Iraqi family for allowing the search.

Petraeus didn't invent the idea of nation building, but he has expanded and improved on what was introduced in Korea and Vietnam, Jordan said.

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