08/23/07 — Gen. Karl Eikenberry interview -- NATO version 2.0

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Gen. Karl Eikenberry interview -- NATO version 2.0

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on August 23, 2007 1:45 PM

No longer commanding U.S. forces in Afghanistan, Goldsboro native Lt. Gen. Karl Eikenberry's new mission is as a NATO officer, serving as deputy chairman of NATO's Military Committee in Brussels, Belgium.

His job, he explained, is to help the chairman -- Canadian Air Force four-star General Ray Henault -- set the international alliance's day-to-day military agenda, which involves not only efforts in Afghanistan, but also the Balkans, Darfur and Somalia.

It's a bit of a change from when he commanded only U.S. forces, he said, telling the story of being in a meeting with NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer of the Netherlands, when one of the secretary's staff directed a question about American military affairs toward him.

"I'll never forget it," Eikenberry said. "The secretary general looked at that member of his staff and said 'Gen. Eikenberry is a NATO officer. He is not at this table as an American officer.' That meant a lot to me.

"I am a United States officer who is assigned to a NATO position. I am a NATO officer."

But, of course, that doesn't mean he is not still serving his country.

When he moved from Afghanistan to Brussels, he made sure to take two items with him -- a picture of himself at the bedside of a young Army soldier at Walter Reed Hospital, and a plaque from the Goldsboro City Council recognizing and thanking him for his service. Both items hung on the wall of his headquarters in Kabul and now hang on the wall of his Brussels' office. When he gets back, he'll hang up the keys to city he received on Monday.

"I kept that picture up as a reminder of the really awesome responsibility and the tremendous honor of commanding when you lead men of that caliber in the armed forces," he said. "(The plaque) is a reminder of the greatness of our nation and that this is worth defending."

"That kind of support imparts in the soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines, a reminder to them that there is a great government and a great society that is worthy of sacrifice, and it's reassuring to know that society stands firmly behind them."

And now, Eikenberry continued, he feels much the same way about NATO, despite the natural differences and rivalries that exist between the 26 member nations that have played an important role in maintaining security across the globe for the last 60 years.

"The world has shifted several times under our feet in the last 20 years," Eikenberry said. "I look back at that and NATO has continued to adapt and meet new threats. What they have done and where they have been are at all the strategic points in the history of the world."

That includes invoking Article 5 -- coming to the defense of any attacked member nation -- for the first time in its history when the U.S. was attacked on Sept. 11, 2001.

"As a NATO officer, the role the U.S. plays in NATO is indispensable, and I believe NATO plays an important role in America's continued security," Eikenberry said.

And as his 34-year career heads into its twilight -- though he's not planning on retiring anytime soon -- the 55-year-old three-star general is honored to be a part of that.

"I know I don't have another 34 years of services left, but right now, I'm enjoying the challenge of being in NATO and I think I'm able to contribute to the alliance and the nation in this job," he said.