Outgoing Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno on Wednesday praised the efforts of the two officers now on the verge of becoming the first women to meet the challenging standards of the Army's Ranger School.
At a wide-ranging Pentagon news conference, his last as the Army's top officer, the four-star general also had to deal with a question on Donald Trump. He said he disagreed with the strategy of the Republican presidential candidate on Iraq.
Referring to the two women now in the final "Swamp Phase" of Ranger School in the Florida Panhandle, Odierno said, "They've impressed all that they've come in contact with. The effort they've put forward has been significant."
"I don't know how it's going to come out, because you never know," he said, referring to whether they'll complete the course next week as scheduled. "But the feedback I've gotten on these women is how incredibly prepared they are."
The women, both of whom are West Point graduates, are "clearly motivated and, frankly, that's what we want out of our soldiers," Odierno said.
The Army will judge early next week whether the women have passed and will be entitled to wear the highly coveted Ranger tab.
Based on the performance of the two women, the next group of candidates for Ranger School will likely be gender integrated, Odierno said. "I think that we will probably run another course in November that will be integrated -- that's where we're headed right now," he said.
The Army and the other services will be making recommendations to Defense Secretary Ashton Carter this fall on whether to lift current restrictions on women serving in the infantry, armor, artillery and Special Operations.
The retiring general made the comments in what was his final Pentagon news conference as Army chief of staff. He will end his 39-year military career Friday in a formal change-of-command ceremony at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall and be succeeded by Gen. Mark Milley, now head of U.S. Forces Command.
The news conference included a question about Trump, the billionaire realtor and TV celebrity who said recently that, as president, he "would go in and take the oil" to solve the problem of Islamic militants in Iraq and then put troops in place to protect the wells.
Odierno responded with a discourse on the unintended consequences of military action in the context of the Middle East. Pressed on whether he disagreed with Trump, he said, "I do, I do. Right now, I do."
Much of the 40-minute session with Pentagon re porters focused on the military's role in the past and future of Iraq, where he spent 55 months on the ground, including serving as the commander of Multi-National Force-Iraq from September 2008 to September 2010.
The 60-year-old Odierno said that President Obama may have to consider embedding U.S. troops with the Iraqi security forces at some point unless the Iraqis improve in the fight against militants affiliated with the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS.
"I think right now we're kind of at a stalemate," the general said. "If we find in the next several months we're not making the progress that we have, we should probably absolutely consider embedding some soldiers and see if that will make a difference. "It's an option we should present to the president when the time is right."
Reports from the region and from U.S. Central Command indicate that Iraqi security forces are making final preparations for an assault to retake the Anbar province capital of Ramadi. Without being specific, Odierno said that an advance by the Iraqi military was imminent.
"We'll probably get ready to see one here in a few days," he said.
On the issue of the nuclear deal with Iran, the general gave his qualified support. "I support anything that reduces the proliferation of nuclear weapons," he said, "but we can't be naïve."
Odierno noted that Iran will gain access to billions from the lifting of economic sanctions and will use that money to foment unrest in the region. "We have to be aware of that and watch it very closely," he said.
-- Richard Sisk can be reached at email@example.com