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Today's military is enduring a period of scathing self-criticism, touched off in part by a 2007 essay titled "A Failure in Generalship," written by Lt. Col. Paul Yingling, an Iraq War veteran who blamed failings there on a stagnant military culture and on commanders who sent officers into battle without enough troops. At places such as Fort Leavenworth, which houses the Center for Army Lessons Learned, instructors encourage all members of the armed forces to read articles like Yingling's and weigh the wisdom of military decisions, from Alexander the Great to Gen. David Petraeus, now chief of U.S. Central Command. (Petraeus wrote the Army and Marine Corps' Counterinsurgency Field Manual at Fort Leavenworth.)
Still, a mandate to get friendly with reporters is a tough sell on a guy like Simonds, who calls CNN the "communist news network" and thinks the media pay too much attention to the Cindy Sheehans of the world and too little to soldiers' sacrifices.
Fort Leavenworth is the intellectual center of the Army.
Past the gates, where guards check for IDs and search visitors' trunks, a long tree-lined road sweeps into the base, past office buildings and a statue of a Buffalo Soldier that gazes over a placid, man-made lake.
Generals and high-ranking officers live in antebellum-style houses with wraparound porches and welcoming foyers. The students and their families live in more modest housing on surprisingly normal-looking neighborhood streets on the base or outside the gates in the city of Leavenworth. Besides being the home of the Combined Arms Center and the CGSC, the city is best-known for its maximum-security federal prison.
Gen. Caldwell arrived in Fort Leavenworth in 2007, taking over for Petraeus after Petraeus' promotion to Commanding General, Multi-National Force–Iraq. For the previous 13 months, Caldwell had been in Iraq with the job title Chief Spokesman and Deputy Chief of Staff for Strategic Effects for the Multinational Force–Iraq.
Caldwell's office is in Grant Hall, a yellow building with a clock tower. It's spacious, filled with heavy wood furniture, leather couches and a commanding portrait of the general. The walls are crowded with certificates, seals, flags, photos of the general with heads of state, and framed newspaper articles.
With his easy, almost goofy smile and down-to-earth presence, the general seems a natural choice to have been the spokesman of the Iraq War effort, which was his post between May 2006 and June 2007. The assignment proved to be a daunting test, he says.
"Everything else in my military career that I've ever done, I had prepared for," he says. "I mentally had put myself in the groove to understand what I was about to engage in. So, like, when we invaded Panama, that's what I had been training for for 14 years. We were finally going to do what we had prepared and rehearsed and practiced and exercised." The story is the same with his deployments in Haiti and during the first Gulf War, he says.
"But when I arrived in Iraq and Gen. [George] Casey said, 'Oh, no, no, no — you're going to be a spokesman,' I still remember looking at him, going, 'Sir, I am not trained to do this.' He said, 'You're going to do great.' I said, 'Sir, I don't know anything about this.' I mean, I was pleading almost. And, at one point, I finally looked at him and said, 'Sir, me and you have got to understand, sir, I don't do media.' And he just looked at me and goes, 'You do now.'"