WASHINGTON, July 15 (UPI) -- U.S. Army Gen. David D. McKiernan, who commanded all allied land forces during the 2003 invasion of Iraq, was honored at a retirement ceremony Wednesday.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who replaced McKiernan as commander of NATO and U.S. forces in Afghanistan after less than a year in that post, commended the general for his outstanding 37-year career, American Forces Press Service reported.
"He has handled everything the Army and his commander in chief have thrown at him with supreme professionalism, intelligence and dedication to our nation and the men and women under his command," Gates said.
McKiernan graciously returned the compliment, calling Gates "the finest secretary of defense in my lifetime."
McKiernan directly addressed his removal from Afghanistan in favor of Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal.
"If you had asked me 30 days ago if I would be here at my retirement ceremony, I probably would have said no," he said. "Make no mistake I was dismayed, disappointed, more than a little embarrassed. But, as so often in life ... I received some candid coaching that said, 'McKiernan, this is not about you. It's about paying respect to your profession and those around who know you.'"
Gates lauded McKiernan's skill in directing the March 2003 attack on Baghdad.
"(It was) a march that in less than three weeks brought Saddam Hussein's brutal regime to an end," Gates said.
Army Chief of Staff Gen. George W. Casey Jr. praised the general for his service, which also included the Cold War, Desert Storm and in the Balkans.
"I can't think of another officer who has contributed so much and given so much to the men and women of this Army," Casey said.
McKiernan received the Distinguished Service Medal from Casey and the Defense Distinguished Service Medal from Gates.