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Commander of Multinational Force in Iraq Began to Forge His Leadership Skills in Little League

WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. (Feb. 8, 2007) – Even as an 11-year-old in Cornwall (N.Y.) Little League, David Patraeus was quiet, unassuming, and a tough competitor. More than 40 years later, the youngster affectionately known as “Peaches” by players on Gene Goldsmith’s Cubs team, was selected by President Bush to head the Coalition Forces in Iraq.

A lieutenant general in the United States Army, David Howell Patraeus was unanimously confirmed in January by the Senate as Commander of Multinational Forces-Iraq, succeeding Army Gen. George Casey.

Gen. Petraeus

Growing up in Cornwall-on-the-Hudson, N.Y., the nickname “Peaches” came about when the future general’s Little League teammates mispronounced his last name. Mr. Goldsmith, and the late William Bloom, coached Gen. Petraeus during his Little League years.

“He was shy, but if you gave him the ball, and told him to do something – he’d do it,” Mr. Goldsmith, a retired facility manager with the New York State Parks Service, said. “When you spoke to him, it was like talking to a grown-up. He was very smart, and a well-disciplined young man.”

Wins were hard to come by, said Mr. Goldsmith, who now lives in Florida. In hindsight those games taught the children how to lose with their heads held high, as well as how it felt to win the right way.

Mr. Bloom, who passed away several years ago, and Mr. Goldsmith, 74, appreciated the opportunities that playing Little League afforded the players. Many of the lessons that baseball can teach come through in real-life situations, which was always a point of emphasis in the duo’s coaching philosophy.

“There was more to Little League than just baseball,” Mr. Goldsmith said. “Teamwork and sportsmanship were important to us. It was a thrill for us to be with the kids, because we were teaching things for life.”

In 1974, nearly 10 years after Gen. Patraeus graduated from the Cornwall Little League program, he was commissioned as an infantry officer following graduation from the United States Military Academy at West Point.

General Patraeus was the General George C. Marshall Award winner as the top graduate of the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College Class in 1983; and later earned a Master’s degree in public administration, and a Ph.D. in international relations from Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs.

“I knew Peaches was going to amount to something,” Mr. Goldsmith said. “He would encourage others to do their best, and then go ahead and work on his own game. As a player he was quiet, but sincere – a go-get-’em type of a player.”

Mr. Goldsmith remembered the future general played third base and outfield, and was a solid hitter, batting third or fourth in the lineup.

“David was a very good hitter, with a little power,” Mr. Goldsmith said. “He was speedy on the bases, and even though he played the game quietly, he played well.”

The Patraeus family attended nearly all of David’s games. David’s father, Sixtus, a former sea captain of Dutch descent, spent his weekends helping out the local league on grounds crew duty.

“His father always used to say, ‘If you need anything, let me know,’” Mr. Goldsmith said. “I could see David was growing up to be a leader like his dad, because he showed that same kind of leadership quality on our team.”

Shortly after Gen. Petraeus began his military career he also started a family, marrying Holly Knowlton, daughter of retired Army Gen. William A. Knowlton, who was superintendent of West Point at the time. The couple married in 1974, and had two children.

Gen. Petraeus has held leadership positions in airborne, mechanized, and air assault infantry units in Europe, the Middle East, and the United States. Before his tour in Iraq, he was Assistant Chief of Staff for Operations of the NATO Stabilization Force, and Deputy Commander of the U.S. Joint Interagency Counter-Terrorism Task Force in Bosnia. He has been wounded at least twice in the line of duty.

In 2003, Gen. Petraeus commanded the 101st Airborne Division during the invasion of Iraq, and during that unit’s occupation of Mosul in 2004. Later in 2004, he was placed in charge of training the new Iraqi Army. In September of 2005, he assumed command of the U.S. Army Combined Arms Center at Fort Leavenworth, Kan.

In a military career that has spanned more than three decades, the numerous awards and decorations earned by Gen. Petraeus include, the Distinguished Service Medal, Army Achievement Medal, Defense Superior Service Medal, Legion of Merit and the Bronze Star.

“I’m not surprised at all that’s he’s been successful,” Mr. Goldsmith said when told about his former player’s achievements. “David was going to be a star no matter what he did. I’m certain that if there is anybody who can straighten out Iraq, he can.”

Lt. Gen. David Patraeus, a graduate of Cornwall (N.Y.) Little League, was nominated by President Bush as the next Commander of Multinational Forces-Iraq. The U.S. Senate recently confirmed the nomination.
Photos courtesy of the Department of Defense.