Babylon & Beyond

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IRAQ: A new star and a new name for Ray

September 16, 2008 |  1:58 pm

OdiernoPlease don't call him Raymond. That's the word from the U.S. military in Iraq, where Gen. Ray Odierno -- formerly Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno -- is now to be referred to as just plain Ray. The advisory came via an e-mail message sent to the media Tuesday after Odierno took command of U.S. forces from Gen. David -- not Dave -- H. Petraeus at a ceremony in Baghdad.

Odierno gained a star but lost a syllable in his first name. He was promoted to a full four-star general moments before the event took place. No reason was given for the change in his preferred first name, which must have happened suddenly. The press packet provided to the media included a biography of Odierno that introduced him as Gen. Raymond Odierno.

Whatever name he goes by, Odierno cuts a formidable figure at 6'5" tall with a resume nearly as lengthy that includes duty over 32 years in Germany, Albania, Kuwait and Iraq. Odierno is beginning his third deployment in Iraq at a particularly difficult time. He will have to hang on to the dramatic security gains made under Petraeus as pressure mounts on U.S. forces to decrease their numbers here.

The name switch was among the unexpected developments surrounding the handover event. Another was the remarkable dust storm that blanketed most of Iraq, including Baghdad, in an ocher fog for a second straight day. The air was so dark that Defense Secretary Robert Gates had to go by road from the U.S. base at Camp Victory near Baghdad's airport to the government and embassy enclave, the Green Zone, a few miles away.

Normally, U.S. officials fly by helicopter, about a 5-minute ride. Even while trumpeting security gains, the military has been reluctant to risk transporting VIPs along the airport road that used to be one of Baghdad's deadliest. But this time, they decided the planned meetings in the Green Zone on Monday had to go on, even if it meant a road trip. 

But there are road trips, and then there are VIP road trips. As the Armed Forces Press Service reported, Gates "rode in a regular armored sedan, and his party traveled in mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicles as they made the trip on the airport road."

— Tina Susman in Baghdad

Photo: Gen. Ray Odierno. Credit: U.S. military.