WASHINGTON -- Gen. David Petraeus warned at a pomp-filled retirement ceremony yesterday that the nation's leaders, faced with tough budget decisions, should be careful not to cut the military's budget too deeply in the years ahead.
The vast majority of the hourlong ceremony at Fort Myer in Arlington, Va., celebrated Petraeus's 37 years of military service and his six years of leading troops in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2003. Military bands played, medals were awarded, and Petraeus issued a long list of thanks to his mentors, his peers and the troops who fought under his command.
Petraeus is retiring as the wars that have defined his career as a general and dominated U.S. foreign policy are winding down. He also leaves amid a struggling economy and looming defense reductions that probably will cut $400 billion to $1 trillion from military budgets over the next decade. The near certainty of deep reductions is clearly on Petraeus' mind as he takes off his uniform and prepares to lead the Central Intelligence Agency.
"I do believe we have relearned since 9/11 the timeless lesson that we don't always get to fight the wars for which we are most prepared or most inclined," Petraeus told the crowd. "Given that reality, we will need to maintain the full-spectrum capability that we have developed over this last decade of conflict in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere."
Most of the ceremony focused on Petraeus' past, something of a departure for a general who throughout his career has focused tirelessly, and at times obsessively, on the future.
"Dave, you have run the race well, swifter and surer than the rest," said Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, as Petraeus sat in the hot sun behind him. "You now stand among the giants -- not just in our time, but of all time, joining the likes of Grant, Pershing, Marshall and Eisenhower as one of the great battle captains of American history."
Petraeus and his wife, Holly, leave the Army after making 23 moves over the course of his career. The general's son recently completed a tour as a platoon leader in Afghanistan and is a first lieutenant serving in Italy.
Petraeus will not be taking much of a break. In a few weeks, he will take over the top job at the CIA. "We wish [him] happiness and prosperity in his well-earned retirement," the announcer at the ceremony intoned. The remark drew guffaws from the crowd.