By Bill Begley
Fort Hood Herald
Farewells are never easy, but are a way of life in the Army.
Monday, the communities of Central Texas gathered to say farewell to another soldier — Lt. Gen. Ray Odierno — and ask one pertinent question:
Did his wife, Linda, have to go, too?
“People tell me all the time, ‘Good luck general — where’s Linda going to go?’” the commander of III Corps and Fort Hood joked during a gathering to honor the couple as Odierno prepares to replace Gen. David Petraeus as commander of Multinational Forces-Iraq. “Honestly, I am a little hurt by that.”
Hoping to ease the pain — and recognize the general’s imminent departure — the Military Affairs Committee of the Greater Killeen Chamber of Commerce organized the gathering at the Shilo Inn Suites. Representatives from Killeen, Copperas Cove, Harker Heights, Belton, Temple and Lampasas were on hand to deliver a cache of mementos and salute both for their service and long association with the post and its surrounding areas.
When Odierno took over as commander of Fort Hood in 2006, it was just the latest in a what has been a number of stints at the Central Texas post, including command of the 4th Infantry Division during the invasion of Iraq and the capture of Saddam Hussein.
Along the way, the Odiernos had one son graduate from Killeen High School and two more attend there, and the depth of the roots in the community was obvious from the outpouring of support and their emotional response.
“This is really hard because, when I look out at everyone here, I see family,” a teary Linda said. “You all have been so wonderful and we are going to miss you so much.
“You don’t know how much of an inspiration you were to me with all your support during the deployments. ... We will never forget you. You are the greatest.”
It was the Odiernos’ willingness to connect with the communities that made such a lasting impact, Killeen Mayor Timothy Hancock said.
“Each commander that has come through here has had a special relationship with the community,” said Hancock, who gave the couple a key to the city. “I think there is a special quality here because we know them so well. They have been associated with the post and been here so long, coming up through the different levels of command.
“The big thing is it is so easy to communicate with the general and Mrs. ‘O’, too. They became a part of the communities ... there was more of a family feeling, a closeness.”
That, in turn, helped develop on synergy between the surrounding communities and the post, said Ron Taylor, president of the Central Texas-Fort Hood Chapter of the Association of the United States Army.
“They did not close the door on us — they opened doors and invited us to come in,” said Taylor, who announced that his organization made a $1,000 donation in the Odiernos’ name to the Museum of the United States Army. “That’s why there is a special connection between Fort Hood and the communities of Central Texas, because of the doors they opened.”
The communities’ interest and effort “continue to make a difference with the Army and around the world,” Odierno said. “That means a lot to me, and I want to thank everyone for that.”
A promotion — receiving his fourth star in a 96-1 vote by the Senate last week — means the general is leaving Fort Hood on active duty for a final time, but Odierno said a return is not out of the question.
“I’m looking for a good piece of property — but I want a good deal,” he joked. “Seriously, this is home.”
Contact Bill Begley at email@example.com or (254) 501-7463.