Ricardo Sanchez

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Ricardo S. Sanchez (1953-) is a retired lieutenant general in the United States Army, whose last assignment was the "dual hat" command of V Corps and what, at the time, was the senior headquarters of U.S. forces in Iraq. Originally, that headquarters was Combined Joint Task Force 7, built from the assets of V Corps, but was converted to Multi-National Corps-Iraq. While he had been under active consideration for promotion to full general to head United States Southern Command, the nomination was not made due to his association with the Abu Ghraib prison scandal, which became public under his command.[1] He now works with a consultancy, Pan American Solutions.

He has served in the Department of Defense senior mentor program,[2] but did not have his contract renewed because he had taken public positions. [3] An email obtained by USA Today, under the Freedom of Information Act, said the list of mentors was "one short since Old Dominion University cut Gen. Sanchez loose after the disparaging remarks he made about President Bush." Major General David Edgington, chief of staff of United States Joint Forces Command said that the command, not the university, dropped him; they respect "Sanchez's choice to take a public stand on past issues, but senior mentors must remain focused solely on operational art...To do otherwise has the potential to distract from the intended learning...Based on this, in the fall of 2007, (the command) made the decision not to retain (Lt. Gen.) Sanchez as a senior mentor for future exercises."

The major ground combat of the Iraq War was directed by an intermediate headquarters, between United States Central Command (CENTCOM) and the two fighting corps, called Coalition Forces Land Combat Command, under LTG David McKiernan. V Corps and I Marine Expeditionary Force reported to McKiernan.

In May, after the end of combat, there were warnings that an Iraq War, insurgency#insurgency was developing. [4] Sanchez led the 1st Armored Division into Iraq in mid-May, as the 3rd Infantry Division and other units that had been at the front of combat began to rotate out. Beyond rotation, the Administration, and the outgoing head of United States Central Command, Tommy Franks, were eager to reduce U.S. troop levels, although this was not universal among the Army. "When we found that they [McKiernan's staff] were moved south, we were shocked," retired Gen. Jack Keane, the Army vice chief of staff at the time, told National Public Radio. V Corps was not staffed to manage civil affairs or peace operations, and there was no common chain command with the U.S. civilian administration, the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) under L. Paul Bremer. [5] The Army's own Combat Studies Institute issued a report, On Point II, which criticized the lack of post-combat planning, implicitly putting much of the responsibility with Franks, but some at the feet of Rumsfeld.[6]

The CIA station confirmed Shawani's impression. GEN Jack Keane, Vice Chief of Staff of the Army, had warned the Joint Chiefs of Staff that an insurgency was developing. Nevertheless, President George W. Bush, on July 2, taunted the insurgents with the statement "bring 'em on".

Command of V Corps passed to Sanchez after combat ended, and McKiernan's staff, as well as a forward CENTCOM staff in Kuwait, were withdrawn. Sanchez was left with a small staff and a very complex situation. Thomas Ricks observed,

If there there is any tragic figure at the top of the U.S. effort in Iraq, it is Sanchez. By all accounts, a good man, somewhat gruff, but hardworking, dedicated, and doing what he had been trained to do. But there are few people who contend he was the man for the job, or succeeded in Iraq...[Deputy Secretary of State] Richard Armitage said 'It was my view, after seeing him, that Rick Sanchez was exactly in the wrong place. He was much too secretive. He and Bremer, if they didn't hate each other, they could barely tolerate each other.' [7]

Ironically, while legitimate questions were raised about Sanchez's command style for the political complexities of post-combat Iraq, the native Spanish-speaker had been extremely effective in his earlier assignments in Southern Command, which, had it not been for the scandals, would have been his next assignment.

Opinions in retirement

Sanchez has called for a "truth commission" to investigate both the overall Iraq War and the terrorism suspect interrogation policies. [8]

In 2007, he criticized the ongoing "Surge" strategy, but referred to the original concept as a “catastrophically flawed, unrealistically optimistic war plan.”[9]

End of tour and career

When reporters asked United States Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, during a news conference in April 2005, if Sanchez would be promoted, "I don't have any sense yet... We've got a lot of pieces on the board, and we're looking at a lot of different moves....He's obviously an officer who is serving in an important, responsible position. And he served in an important, responsible position in Iraq before that, and has an excellent reputation." [10]

On May 18, 2004, Sanchez testified to the Senate Armed Services Committee about Abu Ghraib. Sanchez denied news reports that he had approved certain extended interrogation techniques. He put it that the Democrats on the Committee "portrayed my memorandums of September 14, 2003 and October 12, 2003 as having opened the door to aggressive interrogation techniques..." [11]

He, Rumsfeld, and United States Central Command commander GEN John Abizaid (Sanchez's direct commander, reporting to Rumsfeld) met with President Bush on the 20th, following additional Congressional testimony that day. After the meeting, Rumsfeld went back to see the President, and came back to say,

The President has approved the following personnel moves. He can't sent GEN Craddock to Iraq, because it would formalize the shadow chain of command links that the Democrats are trying to prove. Therefore, the choices are Abizaid, Casey or McKiernan. McKiernan would be a good choice if it were a warfighting assignment Abizaid has to stay focused on the CENTCOM theater as a whole. Therefore, he's sending General Casey to Iraq.

Ric, he's afraid to send your nomination [for a fourth star] forward at this time, because it's likely to get mired in the ongoing political debate. He's decided to keep you in V Corps and send General Craddock to Southern Command. We'll keep you on hold, let this thing die down, and renominate you later. So hang in there. [12]

Abizaid complained that Southern Command and the promotion had been promised to Sanchez, but Rumsfeld said the political conditions were wrong and Sanchez had to go back to Germany with V Corps. There were news reports about the possible promotion in June, saying Chief of Staff of the Army GEN Peter Schoomaker and other officials strongly supported him, and according to the New York Times, "military did not supply him with the full support and personnel required by Army doctrine...it would showcase the nation's highest-ranking Hispanic officer and his compelling personal story of growing up poor in southern Texas and using the military as an escalator out of poverty, at a time when the Army is struggling to meet its recruiting quotas. "[13]

Sanchez turned over command to Casey in July. In August 2004, the Fay-Jones report was released, which recognized the understaffing at CJTF-7, but also put some blame there. Sanchez met with Rumsfeld in September. Sanchez brought up the issue that his tour with V Corps was reaching its end, and, without another three-star assignment, would be forced to retire as a two-star. Rumsfeld promised to keep him eligible for retention and a fourth star. Rumsfeld then began to talk about the understaffing of CJTF-7, and claimed he did not know McKiernan's CFLCC staff was being withdrawn. Rumsfeld also said he did not know why Marine LTG James Conway was upset about the Administration's indecisiveness at First Battle of Fallujah, and claimed he did not know about the tension between Bremer and Sanchez. Sanchez said "while I tried to act professionally, I did everything short of saying, 'You had to know, Mr. Secretary.'" [14]

He returned to his wife in Germany (V Corps was still in Iraq), not wanting to retire, but finally concluded Rumsfeld had no intention of following up on the four-star nomination. It became obvious they could not send him back to Iraq. The higher command came up with a structure that could put him in a "wartime" three-star post in Germany to train troops. [15]

The Army Inspector General report came out and cleared him of wrongdoing. He was invited to a Cinco de Mayo celebration at the White House in May 2005, and attended. In October, however, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff GEN Peter Pace called him in to tell Sanchez

Bad news doesn't get better with age. I've got to inform you that we've made the decision not to nominate you for a fourth star or another three-star assignment. It is not in the best interest of the Department of Defense, the Army, or you. A confirmation hearing would be too contentious."[16]

Rumsfeld called him back in April 2006, and offered him civilian posts. He showed him a memo documenting the error in withdrawing CENTCOM and CFLCC staffs, saying that "I did not know Sanchez was in charge." Sanchez stopped reading, "because I knew it was total BS,"[17] reminding him that GEN Keane had visited in July and promised to get more help.

Iraq command

He took command of V Corps on 14 June 2003, and left on 6 September 2006. At the time of his appointment, he was the junior lieutenant general in the U.S. Army. While he certainly had had counterinsurgency experience, he was going into the arguably most sensitive three-star job in the Army. Many of his colleagues praised his abilities, but some felt he was in a job beyond his abilities, possibly micromanaging.[7]

He was under considerable pressure to produce actionable intelligence, but did not receive an intelligence brigade until July. No interrogation policy for conventional forces was established until September 2003. That September 2003 policy was also influenced by techniques authorized for use at Guantanamo Bay detention camp. [18]

On 8 March 2004, the day the Iraqi Governing Council approved a constitution for Iraq, Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, after repeated requests from GEN John Abizaid, commanding United States Central Command, gave CJTF-7 authority over the development of Iraqi Security Forces. That responsibility had previously been with the Coalition Provisional Authority.

Less pleasing news came on 12 March when MG George Fay, who was investigating irregularities involving military intelligence personnel at Abu Ghraib, told Sanchez "Sir, I'm getting some indications that you might have known something, so I'm going to have to question you." Sanchez, following Army policy, told him that Army policy required a higher-ranking officer become involved, since Sanchez outranked Fay. GEN Paul Kern was appointed to that role, with LTG Anthony Jones working with him. He asked his legal officer, COL Marc Warren, about separate incidents of combat units mistreating prisoners, and Warren properly told him that Sanchez could not become involved other through formal channels.[19]

In April, L. Paul Bremer, in the presence of GEN Abizaid, told him he had to stop operations in Fallujah. Initially, Sanchez told them , "If we pull out under fire, it will be a strategic defeat for America. And you know the first thing al-Jazeera report is the enemy cause the retreat." Turning to Abizaid, he said "Look, sir, I am not going to issue that order. If you want that order issued, you will have to find another commander." The compromise reached was to cease offensive operations, but Sanchez gave LTG James Conway, commanding the Marines in Fallujah, the authority to conduct "very robust counterattacks" to defend his force.[20]

General officer assignments

On 10 July 2001, he took command of V Corps' 1st Armored Division (U.S.), then in Germany.

Eventually, in 1999, he left SOUTHCOM, originally for a troop assignment in Germany as assistant division commander for support in the 1st Infantry Division (U.S.). The division, however, deployed to Kosovo. This was a coalition environment that he said gave him experience for Iraq; the UN Kosovo force was headed by a German general, who, in turn, reported to NATO commander GEN Wesley Clark. MG John Abizaid took over as the new division commander; Sanchez would later report to Abizaid in Iraq. Abizaid assigned Sanchez to command Multi-National Brigade East in Kosovo, doing "nation building", a term he was told to avoid. [21]

In 1997, a new SOUTHCOM commander, GEN Charles Wilhelm, asked Sanchez to stay for another year, in a reorganized staff. He spent a substantial amount of time traveling to Latin American nations, where his native Spanish skills helped build relationships.


After taking the post at SOUTHCOM, McCaffery was reassigned, and Sanchez became acting chief of staff, a colonel with brigadier generals reporting to him. This was less a problem than dealing with vice admiral James Perkins, who was acting commander, but with whom he formed a good relationship. GEN Wesley Clark became the new commander. At the end of Sanchez's staff year, Clark asked him to become the SOUTHCOM operations officer (J-3). Sanchez had wanted to go back to troop command in Germany, but, following the rule of never saying no to a four-star, accepted. The J-3 post led to Sanchez's promotion to brigadier general.

He took command of the 2nd Brigade, 1st Infantry Division (U.S.) in 1994. In 1995, the unit went through the National Training Center, where MG Randy House, his division commander, advised him in command. Toward the end of his tour, McCaffery, now a general heading United States Southern Command, sent Sanchez a letter asking him to join his staff. House told him "you never say no to a four-star", and welcomed him to senior leadership.

In 1993, while attending the U.S. Army War College, he was selected for early promotion to colonel and brigade command, to take effect in 1994. After graduation, he was sent to an assignment in the Army Inspector General office.

He commanded 2nd Battalion, 69th Armor, in the Gulf War, which attacked into Iraq on 24 February 1991. His brigade was part of the 24th Infantry Division (mechanized), commanded by MG Barry McCaffery, who became one of his mentors.

Sanchez took command of the battalion after serving in a variety of field staff jobs in the 3rd Armored Division in Germany. After receiving his master's degree from the Naval Postgraduate School, he was assigned to the U.S. Army Armor Center, where he worked in planning what would become Future Combat Systems.

Early career

His first assignment, in 1973, was in 4th Battalion (Light Airborne), 68th Armor, 82nd Airborne Division. His assignments included platoon leader, company executive officer, and assistant logistics officer and operations officer. [22]

He later served as Aide-De-Camp to the Assistant Division Commander (Support), 82nd Airborne Division.

By 1977, he was transferred to Armor.

Early life and education

Born in poverty Rio Grande City, Texas, he joined the Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps in high school, seeing the military as a step upwards. Spanish was his first language. A guidance counselor discouraged him from applying to the United States Military Academy.[23]

While he was an alternate to both West Point and Annapolis, he did receive four-year ROTC scholarships from both the Army and Air Force. Still in high school, he visited the University of Texas at Austin campus, he had thought of becoming an Air Force pilot, but found himself ignored by the Air Force faculty yet warmly greeted by the Army.

After talking with a friend in the smaller ROTC program at Texas A&I University (now Texas A&M University-Kingsville), he transferred there, graduating in 1973 with a double major in math and history.

He is a graduate of the U.S. Army War College, Naval Postgraduate School (operations research and systems engineering), Command and General Staff College, and Armor Officers course.


  1. Ricardo S. Sanchez with Donald T. Phillips (2008), Wiser in Battle: A Soldier's Story, Harpercollins, ISBN 9780-061562426, p. 396
  2. "Military mentors paid well for advice", USA Today, 15 December 2009
  3. Ray Locker, Tom Vanden Brook and Ken Dilanian (21 December 2009), "Military mentors discreetly hired, fired", USA Today
  4. Michael Isikoff, David Corn (2006), HUBRIS: the Inside Story of Spin, Scandal and the Selling of the Iraq War, Crown/Random house, ISBN 0307346811, p. 357
  5. "Army Critiques Post-Invasion Phase of Iraq War", National Public Radio]], 29 June 2008
  6. Donald P. Wright, Timothy R. Reese with the Contemporary Operations Study Team, ON POINT II: Transition to the New Campaign; The United States Army in Operation IRAQI FREEDOM May 2003—January 2005, U.S. Army Combat Studies Institute
  7. 7.0 7.1 Thomas E. Ricks (2006), FIASCO: the American Military Adventure in Iraq, Penguin, ISBN 159320103X, pp. 172-173 Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "Ricks-Fiasco" defined multiple times with different content
  8. "Former U.S. commander in Iraq calls for truth commission", CNN, 2 June 2009
  9. David S. Cloud (12 October 2007), "Former Top General in Iraq Faults Bush Administration", New York Times
  10. "Rumsfeld equivocates on Sanchez promotion", UPI NewsTrack, 26 April 2005
  11. Sanchez, Wiser in Battle, pp. 389-394
  12. Sanchez, Wiser in Battle, p. 396
  13. Eric Schmitt and Thom Shanker (20 June 2005), "Posts Considered for Commanders After Abuse Case", New York Times
  14. Sanchez, Wiser in Battle, pp. 418-423
  15. Sanchez, Wiser in Battle, pp. 425-427
  16. Sanchez, Wiser in Battle, pp. 432-435
  17. Sanchez, Wiser in Battle, pp. 439-442
  18. Committee on Armed Services, U.S. Senate (November 20, 2008), Inquiry into the Treatment of Detainees in U.S. Custody, SASC November 2008, pp. 157-158
  19. Sanchez, Wiser in Battle, pp. 323-327
  20. Sanchez, Wiser in Battle, pp. 350-357
  21. Sanchez, Wiser in Battle, pp. 117-122
  22. Lieutenant General (ret.) Ricardo S. Sanchez, Pan American Solutions
  23. Sanchez, Wiser in Battle, pp. 20-21