Almost all these new generals have had multiple tours of duty leading soldiers in battle. In other words, they have a depth of knowledge about asymmetric warfare that the generals at the start of the Iraq war did not. And many of them were promoted straight from their combat commands. That is, they didn't have to scurry through the usual bureaucratic maze.
For instance, just last year, nine of the 38 new one-stars had been executive officers to a commanding general—and, in most cases, not a combat commander—at the time they were promoted. This year, only four of the 40 were serving in that role, and all of them under commanders who had something to do with combat.
How this change happened is another intriguing tale. Usually, the promotion board consists of the upper echelon of the Army's bureaucracy—the vice chief of staff or one of his deputies and the generals in charge of various commands. In 2007, the promotion board included only one general who reported in from Iraq.
This year, Petraeus wasn't the only unusual general on the board. Another panelist was Lt. Gen. Peter Chiarelli, Defense Secretary Robert Gates' senior military assistant, who was also a corps commander in Iraq and the author of several articles in military journals calling for an overhaul of the Army's personnel policies. Others included Lt. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, commander of the Joint Special Operations Command, who, like Petraeus, was called back from Iraq to serve on the board; Maj. Gen. John Mulholland, commander of special operations for U.S. Central Command (which covers Iraq and Afghanistan); and Lt. Gen. Ann Dunwoody, commander of Materiel Command and a former parachutist in the 82nd Airborne Division, who, as the Army's top-ranking female officer, is well disposed to the idea of opening doors.
Any officer looking at the names on this panel—and the ones I've listed aren't the only ones—would very clearly get the message: The Cold War is over, and so, finally, is the Cold War Army.
In October 2007, a month before Petraeus was appointed to chair the promotion board, Secretary Gates gave a speech to the Association of the United States Army—usually a forum for back-patting boilerplate, but Gates sounded the trumpet for what many in the audience must have heard as revolution. Speaking of the officers serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, "who have been tested in battle like none other in decades" and "have seen the complex, grueling face of war in the 21st century up close," Gates said:
These men and women need to be retained, and the best and brightest advanced to the point that they can use their experience to shape the institution to which they have given so much. And this may mean reexamining assignments and promotion policies that in many cases are unchanged since the Cold War.
That change seems to be starting now.