In September 2008, Gen. Ray Odierno assumed command of U.S. forces in Iraq, facing the challenge of reducing the number of troops in Iraq while maintaining hard-earned security gains.
During the ceremony in which he became commander of the multinational forces, Odierno said, "We must realize that these gains are fragile and reversible, and our work here is far from done," quoted the New York Times.
Odierno answers to his predecessor, Gen. David Petraeus, who now heads U.S. central command, which oversees military operations in the Middle East, Afghanistan and the rest of central Asia.
During his first tour of Iraq in 2003, Odierno commanded the 4th Infantry Division and was responsible for an area north of Baghdad known as the Sunni Triangle. It was under his command that the 4th Infantry Division captured ousted Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein from a camouflaged underground hole in his hometown of Tikrit.
As Petraeus' second-in-command just prior to his current position, Odierno carried out counter-insurgency campaigns to drive al-Qaida insurgents out of areas around Baghdad, in part with the help of Sunni Awakening Councils. The Awakening movement, which is credited with contributing to the downturn in violence in Iraq since late 2006, started in the Anbar province when Sunni tribal leaders turned against al-Qaida members and began working with the U.S. military, which paid the leaders and provided them with equipment and training.
After the reduction in violence and largely successful provincial elections, President Barack Obama announced in February 2009 that the combat mission in Iraq would end on Aug. 31, 2010.
Under Obama's plan, the 142,000 U.S. forces in Iraq will be reduced to about 35,000 to 50,000 troops by his deadline, and all forces will be withdrawn by the end of 2011, the Associated Press reported.
A Rockaway, N.J., native, Odierno graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point with a Bachelor of Science degree in 1976. He later earned master's degrees in nuclear effects engineering and national security and strategy at North Carolina State University and the Naval War College, respectively.
In 2004, his son, Tony, who was an Army lieutenant at the time, lost an arm to a rocket-propelled grenade while on patrol in Baghdad. Odierno said in a CNN interview that the family pulled together, and his wife Linda learned how to dress her son's wounds so he could be cared for at home. The Odiernos also have a daughter, Katie.