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Gen. Bernard W. Rogers, 87; NATO Leader and Army Chief

Gen. Rogers, in a 1979 photo, was once described
Gen. Rogers, in a 1979 photo, was once described "as the most effective NATO chief since the first, Dwight D. Eisenhower." (United Press International)
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By Matt Schudel
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 7, 2008

Bernard W. Rogers, 87, a four-star general who introduced major reforms as Army chief of staff in the 1970s and who later was the top military commander of NATO, died Oct. 27 at Inova Fairfax Hospital after a heart attack. He lived in McLean.

After bringing changes in recruiting and training to an Army whose morale had been depleted by the Vietnam War, Gen. Rogers became the longest serving military chief in NATO's six-decade history.

He strengthened the transatlantic military alliance's presence throughout Europe and, according to a 1985 Business Week article, was "widely viewed as the most effective NATO chief since the first, Dwight D. Eisenhower."

He replaced Alexander M. Haig Jr. as supreme allied commander in Europe in 1979 and was elected to an unprecedented four two-year terms as NATO's military leader. Gen. Rogers repeatedly warned against relaxing Western military readiness in the face of what he saw as a powerful Soviet threat. He instituted a new doctrine of warfare emphasizing mobile, high-impact strikes that has since become a dominant military strategy.

When the Reagan administration signed a treaty with the Soviet Union requiring each side to withdraw intermediate-range missiles from Europe, Gen. Rogers called the agreement "foolish." He said the Warsaw Pact's superiority in foot soldiers and conventional weapons left NATO forces at risk of being quickly overrun.

His stance drew a pointed rebuke in 1987 from Secretary of State George P. Shultz, who called the general's comments "way out of line." Gen. Rogers soon retired.

Gen. Rogers, who spent 44 years in uniform, had an unusual combination of talents as a combat commander, intellectual and statesman. While addressing a NATO conference in 1979, the former Rhodes scholar said, "One cannot help but to be impressed -- perhaps depressed is the better word -- by the folly, futility and waste of war as a means of resolving man's problems."

Bernard William Rogers was born June 16, 1921, in Fairview, Kan., and graduated in 1943 from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, where he was elected first captain of cadets.

After World War II, he was briefly an aide to Gen. Mark Clark, the commander of U.S. forces in Austria. In 1947, Gen. Rogers received a Rhodes scholarship to England's University of Oxford, from which he received bachelor's and master's degrees in economics and philosophy.

He was a decorated infantry commander in the Korean War and held intelligence positions before becoming executive officer to Maxwell D. Taylor, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in 1962.

As assistant commander of the First Infantry Division in Vietnam in 1966 and 1967, Gen. Rogers was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross -- the Army's highest award for valor after the Medal of Honor -- for leading a successful counterattack against a Vietcong raid on a South Vietnamese special forces camp. He rallied troops on the ground and personally scouted enemy positions from a low-flying helicopter under heavy fire.

After two years as commandant of the corps of cadets at West Point, Gen. Rogers took command of the Fifth Infantry Regiment in Fort Carson, Colo., in 1969. At a time of falling morale, he made sweeping changes in the daily routine of soldiers by abolishing kitchen duty (KP), reveille, roll call and Friday night "GI parties," in which soldiers scrubbed the barracks for Saturday inspections.

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