Michael's Dispatches

American Legacy: Wayne Downing

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These words come with more news about the passing of General Wayne Downing, one of America’s finest. This rare man was highly respected by the best of the best. I had the honor of talking several times with General Downing in Iraq earlier this year. He was still leading the way, providing his seasoned analysis on the air with NBC’s Brian Williams. At the time, I wrote of meeting General Downing in a dispatch entitled “Ernie is Dead”:

Morning came, and then night again. During the evening, as I walked back to my tent, there was a crew of fourteen from NBC. Sound people, cameramen, a big satellite dish, the works. Three producers. It was all there—the face of the “evil” Mainstream Media in the personages of Brian Williams and Richard Engle. And standing in the dark with them as military analyst for NBC was retired 4-Star General Wayne Downing, a legend in special operations. (Think Delta Force and all the rest of the gang.) Wayne Downing graduated West Point in 1962. Served in Vietnam and everywhere else under the sun. He might have killed more terrorists directly and indirectly than any man on the planet.

I had to rub my eyes. Was that General Downing?

The General Downing?

When Presidents called 911—Downing probably answered the phone. And there he was before me. I walked up and started a conversation without mentioning my name. But General Downing asked, and upon hearing it immediately lit up saying he actually reads this website, and from our conversation it was obviously true. Of course, I said that I was going to take that and run with it, and tell the world that General Downing reads this site.

Among his many other accomplishments, General Downing had commanded the 2nd Ranger Battalion, one of the most difficult and prestigious jobs in the entire military. Today, LTC Erik Kurilla, formerly commander of the Deuce Four and totally recovered from his last gunshot wounds, is now commander of 2nd Ranger Battalion. Small world.

As a warrior of renown in the Special Operations community, Downing might have been expected to keep his knowledge clandestine. But as a scholar of COIN, Downing knew the powerful role that media must play in fighting the Great War on Terrorism. And so he became one of the first—and certainly the most prominent—special operations experts willing to give all journalists the benefit of his insight. This willingness extended even to those practitioners of the so-called “alternative media,” or blogs. In fact he and I had exchanged emails just weeks ago, about the reports I’d been publishing on Operation Arrowhead Ripper in Baqubah:

—– Original Message —–
From: Michael Yon
To: Wayne A. Downing
Sent: Sunday, July 01, 2007 2:12 AM
Subject: Savages


I’m sure you have seen this many times in your life: http://michaelyon-online.com/wp/bless-the-beasts-and-children.htm … We have to beat these people.


—– Original Message —–
On 7/1/07, Wayne A Downing wrote:

Tough war.
In many respects more brutal then my war in SE Asia
How’s it going overall?
Surge starting to make a difference ?
Be safe Michael

—– Original Message —–

From: Michael Yon
To: Wayne A Downing
Sent: Sunday, July 01, 2007 8:00 AM
Subject: Re: Savages


I have a growing feeling that despite the rhetoric, there is progress that is not yet showing on the radar. AQI has made itself terrorists-non-grata in so many places that they are running out of places to run to. Am starting to get the feeling that there is more success going on than is currently obvious. Time will tell. We’ll all know soon enough, but with a finger on the pulse here — for instance Baqubah is now rabidly anti-AQI as is large parts of Anbar — there might be more room for optimism than even the leaders here are letting on.


—– Original Message —–

From: Wayne A Downing
Date: Jul 1, 2007 6:41 PM
Subject: Re: Savages
To: Michael Yon

I am glad to hear this Michael. In the end, it’s going to be the Iraqis that work this out. We can help with setting the conditions but ultimately they will form a nation or have a civil war; maybe both


Those were the final words General Downing and I exchanged.

Lieutenant General Jim Dubik emailed to me his thoughts about Wayne Downing. I hope that many people will read these words from LTG Dubik:

GEN Wayne Downing inspired several generations of leaders in the United States Army. His impact is as broad as it is deep, and will continue in our Army perhaps more than any of us can really determine, for each of us that he inspired directly is indirectly passing on his legacy. In fighting this war, the one thing that all should take away from Wayne’s life is this: one person can make a difference. As Wayne said so many times, “if it were easy, they wouldn’t need us Rangers, drive on.”

Jim Dubik
Lieutenant General, US Army
Commanding General, MultiNational Security Transition Command, Iraq

That last line — “If it were easy, they wouldn’t need us Rangers, drive on.” — I just love it. I was never a Ranger, but people like Wayne Downing make me wish I had been. What is a man’s life worth if he will not defend his family, friends and country? Wayne Downing’s life was our treasure.

A synopsis of General Downing’s life:

In Memory of former SAIC Board Member and patriot, General Wayne A. Downing

General Wayne A. Downing, USA (ret.) who served his nation proudly with distinction, was a former SAIC director, and long-time friend of the company passed away on July 17 in Peoria, Ill., surrounded by his beloved family.

During his tenure with SAIC, Gen. Downing served as a director from April 1996 to Oct. 2001, and was reappointed as a director in Oct. 2002. He left the board in June of 2005. Gen. Downing advised the company on a wide variety of matters, including its long-term strategy for domestic and international business development.

Upon retiring from the SAIC board, Gen. Downing remained as a consultant, as well as Chairman of the Special Projects Committee. Throughout his distinguished career, Gen. Downing served on numerous U.S. government boards and commissions.

Gen. Downing is remembered for his countless acts of bravery as he served in a number of command assignments in infantry, armored, special operations, and Joint units, culminating in his appointment as the Commander-in-Chief U.S. Special Operations Command. He served two combat tours in Vietnam as an infantry officer.

His awards include 12 combat-earned decorations for valor on the battlefield and the Purple Heart. Gen. Downing also earned the Combat Infantryman’s Badge. He was a Military Free Fall Jumpmaster, a Master Parachutist, and an Army Ranger. In addition, he was a Commander in the French Legion of Honor.

As a general officer, Gen. Downing commanded the special operations elements of all services during the 1989 invasion of Panama and commanded a Joint special operations task force operating deep behind the Iraqi lines during Operation Desert Storm.

Most recently, Gen. Downing served in the White House on the National Security Council as Deputy National Security Adviser for Combating Terrorism. Wayne also was a frequent contributor and adviser to NBC News.

Gen. Downing was the Chairman and Founder of the Combating Terrorism Center at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. Tributes attesting to the legacy of Gen. Downing and those mourning the loss of this honorable patriot have been pouring in from around the country.

A memorial service will be held this Saturday, July 21 between 9-10 a.m. at St. Thomas Catholic Church, Peoria. Interment will be held at West Point in September. The family requests contributions in lieu of flowers be sent to the following:

Special Operations Warrior Foundation
P.O. Box 13483
Tampa, FL 33681-3483
National Ranger Memorial Foundation, Inc.
P.O. Box 53369
Ft. Benning, GA 31995-3369

Additional links on the life of Gen. Wayne Downing:

Small Wars Journal

Nightly News Blog



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