Maj. Gen. Dana Pittard Tapped to Lead Iraq Mission

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The two-star general tapped to lead the advise-and-assist mission in Iraq is a disciplined leader who earned praise for running a tight ship at the Army's second-largest installation.

But decades before Maj. Gen. Dana J.H. Pittard assumed command of the 1st Armored Division out of Fort Bliss in his hometown of El Paso, Texas, he was just a 10-year-old boy captivated by a magazine article about Dwight D. Eisenhower.

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Pittard has recalled leafing through the pages of National Geographic in 1969 and stumbling on an article about Eisenhower, the legendary Army general and 34th president.

"I wasn't a studious National Geographic type person," Pittard told the El Paso Times in May 2013. "The reason I was looking at National Geographic, I was looking for scantily clad natives. I was a kid."

And yet a photo of Eisenhower struck a nerve in young Pittard and helped inspire him to join the military.

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"I wanted to be like that; I guess it was delusions of grandeur," Pittard told the newspaper.

Pittard went on to serve a distinguished career in the Army for more than three decades.

In 2012, Pittard got into hot water for comments about soldier suicides that many critics deemed insensitive.

After attending the memorial service for a soldier who committed suicide in front of his twin 6-year-old daughters, Pittard wrote on his official blog that he was "fed up with soldiers who are choosing to take their own lives so that others can clean up their mess."

He soon retracted his comments, according to the Army Times, and was later honored for suicide prevention and intervention initiatives at Fort Bliss, which had the Army's lowest suicide rate in 2012, according to Department of Defense data.

After relinquishing control of Fort Bliss in 2013, he became the deputy commander for the Third U.S. Army in Kuwait, where his duties included overseeing the American military operation in Jordan.

He will now serve in Iraq with the title of joint forces land component commander, where he is tasked with overseeing the 300 U.S. troops dispatched to offer training and intelligence support to the Iraqi military, which has failed to halt the militants' advance toward Baghdad.

The troops are elite members drawn from U.S. Special Operations forces. They will be experts on operations, intelligence and aviation, and will work directly with the Iraqi security forces leadership.

The U.S. advisers will assess the security situation on the ground, including the strength of the Iraqi military and of the Sunni insurgents, known as ISIS. They will be continually feeding that intelligence to U.S. Central Command and use it to determine how many additional Special Forces troops to send and where to deploy them.

— with Courtney Kube