BAGHDAD, Iraq—When Maj. Gen. William Caldwell learned more than a year ago that his next job was to be chief military spokesman in Iraq, he felt doomed to life as an Army stage prop.
"I said, `I'm an Airborne Ranger. I'm a combat commander ... I'm not a game show host,'" Caldwell recalled, wincing even now at the recollection.
Not Bob Barker, perhaps, but for 13 months Caldwell has been the face and voice of the U.S.-led military in Iraq.
He's been the messenger carrying news, good and bad, to skeptical Western reporters. To the Arab media, he's been the on-camera personality insisting that American intentions are good.
Now he's leaving the Middle East for the Midwest, where he will take command of the Army's Combined Arms Center at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., next month.
There Caldwell hopes to convince mid-career officers working their way through the General Command and Staff College to use the break from combat to restore themselves, re-establish intimacy with their families and bond with colleagues.
"I clearly recognize the stress that is being put on the Army," he said. "We need to tell the people going through (Leavenworth) that when you're not in combat, it's OK to go home at five. It's OK to spend the weekend with your families. You need to do that."
He plans to set an example by hiking and biking with his three young children and his wife, Stephanie, a United Methodist minister.
First he'll fly home to Georgia, where he's scheduled to arrive Saturday, marking 31 years in the army. That will make 100 years of service for three generations of Caldwells, including his grandfather (who retired as a colonel), and his father (a retired three-star general).
Upon his return, Caldwell will get his own bump to lieutenant general, matching his father's rank.
William Caldwell IV (William Caldwell V is 8 and the oldest of three) first drew national notice when, as commander of the 82nd Airborne, he told his troops responding to Hurricane Katrina "you are the 911 force for America."
Pentagon brass took notice of the West Point graduate and former Harvard fellow's skill with the post-Katrina media and tagged him to speak for the multinational forces in Iraq.
A trim 53, he's spent the last year in Saddam Hussein's bathroom. Actually, his office is a grand space with white tiled walls in a former presidential palace. A makeshift cabinet conceals its five urinals.
"It was definitely an executive washroom," he said. "They didn't spare any expense."
He retooled the public affairs operation in Baghdad to reach out more directly to fast-growing Arab media. When he arrived, the Iraqi press was regularly briefed four days after Western reporters, their news diet a rehash.
Today, Iraqi reporters attend the same twice-weekly press briefings as U.S. and other reporters. Caldwell also flew monthly to Doha, Qatar, to make the rounds of more than a dozen Arab news organizations.
"If they're reporting incorrect information," Caldwell said, "we're able now to get them to correct it. ... The Arab media have an insatiable appetite for information."
(Canon reports for The Kansas City Star.)
(c) 2007, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.