Top US military commander talks to NCSU graduates

Posted December 18, 2010 2:54 p.m. EST
Updated December 18, 2010 10:51 p.m. EST

— Graduates at North Carolina State University's winter commencement ceremony Saturday heard from a high-profile alum: Gen. Raymond Odierno, commander of the U.S. Joint Forces Command.

Odierno talked with WRAL about the Afghan war, the expected repeal of the Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy and the challenges the Army faces in the upcoming year.

He said that U.S. forces are shaping the future of Afghanistan.

"It's clear that they are providing more freedom, more protection for the Afghani population and building the Afghan security forces. It's just going to take time," he said.

It's also time for systemic change in the U.S. military as the Senate votes to overturn the ban on gays and lesbians from serving openly, he said. Odierno is in charge of training and deploying all military service members in the continental United States.

"The most important thing is how we implement the policy, and we want to make sure that we're given appropriate time to implement it so it can be successful," he said.

Ordierno also talked about the future of Iraq, where he oversaw the 2007 troop surge that turned the war around.

"At the end of 2011, we're supposed to come out of Iraq, and we're on track. How that goes will be important," he said.

Odierno did not dwell on war in his speech to graduates, but emphasized the importance of service to them.

"We all must decide how we serve but all of you have the responsibility to shape the future," he said.

Odierno served at Fort Bragg from 1980 to 1984 before he earned a master's degree at N.C. State. He missed his graduation ceremony in 1986 before a deployment.

"Congratulations, class of 2010," he said. "I wish you nothing but the very best as you move forward in your lives."