04/25/05 — GHS grad will command U.S. forces in Afghanistan

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GHS grad will command U.S. forces in Afghanistan

By Turner Walston
Published in News on April 25, 2005 1:49 PM

The new commander of U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan said the lessons he learned at Goldsboro High School still help him on the battlefield.

Lt. Gen. Karl Eikenberry will assume command of the Combined Forces Command in Afghanistan May 3. The 1969 Goldsboro High graduate will direct a force of 20,000 soldiers representing 20 countries.

The general was in Wayne County last week to visit his father, Harry, who lives at Walnut Creek.

Eikenberry's family came to Goldsboro in the late 1960s. His father was a business executive whose work kept the family on the move. Eventually, he took a job at Hevi-Duty and moved his family to Wayne County.

Lt. Gen. Karl Eikenberry and family

News-Argus/Mitch Loeber

Lt. Gen. Karl Eikenberry, right, his wife, Ching, and his father, Harry, pose for a portrait at his father's home in Walnut Creek Friday afternoon. Gen. Eikenberry will soon be deployed to command the American forces in Afghanistan.

Eikenberry arrived at Goldsboro High as a sophomore. He said having to adjust to a new environment helped prepare him for transitions he would have to make later in life.

He became manager of the football team and credits former coach Gerald Whisenhunt for helping him develop the leadership skills that would help prepare him for a military career.

"The idea of managing resources and having to put together a team of managers underneath you, and being given some important responsibilities, was a tremendous experience," Eikenberry said. He said he also appreciated "having a coach like Whisenhunt that would put a lot of trust in you and mentor you along."

Eikenberry says his experiences in the classroom also played a large role in his development.

Teachers at Goldsboro High School "really drilled hard on the very basics," he said. "It was a standards-based high school in which you had to work hard to get good marks.

"I learned a lot from that, which really put me in good stead for the rest of my life," Eikenberry said. "If you're going to try to achieve, you have to invest time and energy. High marks are not something that comes automatically, and you can work hard and still fail."

Elected vice president of his senior class, Eikenberry said he learned that where you are from is not nearly as important as who you are while you are there.

"You can come in as an outsider, and if you work hard, you can fit in and succeed," he said.

Eikenberry's father had served as a combat engineer officer in World War II, and his experiences made an impression on his son.

"I think I had a predisposition toward an interest in the military," Eikenberry said.

While trying to decide what to do with his life, Eikenberry took a tour of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.

"I was sold," he said. "I said, 'Dad, that's my No. 1 choice.'"

An appointment from Congressman David Henderson opened the door for Eikenberry to attend the academy. After graduation, he served as commander of an infantry company of about 130 soldiers at Fort Stewart, Ga. He said the experience "led to a lot of certainty on my part that I wanted to do this for an entire career."

Eikenberry said forming a team with those soldiers, knowing at any time they could be called to go into combat, filled him with a great sense of responsibility.

Eikenberry's military career has led him to serve in a variety of capacities around the world. Among other assignments, he served as the Assistant Army and Defense Attaché at the U.S. Embassy in China, the Senior Country Director for China, Taiwan and Mongolia for the Department of Defense, and as U.S. Security Coordinator in Afghanistan. In the meantime, he earned master's degrees in East Asian studies from Harvard University and in political science from Stanford University.

As the leader of the Combined Forces Command in Afghanistan, Eikenberry said his job will focus on two chores.

The forces will continue to prosecute the war against the remnants of Al-Qaida and the Taliban, he said. Significant progress has been made in eliminating the threat the two groups pose, he added, "although they remain active and they remain a dangerous enemy.

"There still remains some very determined leadership that's out there that is making a continuing effort to try to disrupt the government of Afghanistan and to make a comeback.

"But like any classic insurgency, you measure, not in months, but years, the amount of time that's needed to knock it out."

The other half of his job involves the reconstruction of the country's infrastructure.

"That's a very broad effort," Eikenberry said. The coalition forces are continuing to help the Afghan government "with efforts to improve their ability to govern, economic reconstruction efforts and to build their security forces."

Eikenberry referred to last year's Afghan elections, expressing confidence that the democratic process is starting to take hold in a nation long used to autocratic leaders.

"There's a long way to go," he said, "but clearly, there's traction now. There's momentum."

He said upcoming Afghan parliamentary elections should prove to be a milestone in the country's history.

Eikenberry said that the sense of duty instilled in him at West Point continues to motivate him.

"Our nation's at war right now," he said. "What I learned from the first day that I was in the academy, and now going through this 32 years of commissioned service, is the sense of commitment to our nation, the responsibility entrusted with winning our nation's wars and battles, and we're in a war right now.

"We've got a group in all our armed forces that is totally dedicated to winning this war. And we'll do that."

Eikenberry lives with his wife, Ching, in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. They have two daughters, Jennifer and Kelly. His mother, Mary, lives in Raleigh.

Though the army has taken him all over the world, Eikenberry said he still has fond memories of Goldsboro.

"I still consider Goldsboro to be where my roots are."