Update Your Profile

Stay up to date with all West Point news and stay connected with fellow grads

Update your Register Entry

Cullum Files

historical records

Class Notes

login required, available to graduates & widows

2009 Distinguished Graduate Award

GEN (R) John Philip Abizaid '73

For more than three decades, General John P. Abizaid has served our nation with distinction and brought extraordinary credit to West Point. A consummate soldier, scholar, and statesman, he is as well known for having inspired countless individual service members as for directing numerous combat and humanitarian operations on the international stage. His skills and character have uniquely suited the demands of his times.

Following graduation and commissioning into the Infantry on June 6, 1973, John Abizaid joined the 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment at Ft. Bragg, North Carolina and then the 2/75th Infantry at Fort Lewis, Washington, where he would command his first company. Studies at the Defense Language Institute followed, where he began a second career path, focused on international relations.  At West Point, John had won an Olmsted Scholarship, which provided for his studies at the University of Jordan in Amman from 1978 to 1980. In Jordan, he immersed himself in Middle Eastern studies, polished his language skills, and trained with Special Forces. Thereafter, he matriculated at Harvard University and became known for his insightful writing on defense policy in the context of the Middle East.

            In 1983, the 82nd Airborne Division deployed to Grenada with Captain Abizaid commanding a company of the 1st Ranger Battalion and establishing a reputation for imaginative tactical command. He would later command the 325th Airborne Battalion Combat Team in Vicenza, Italy, which deployed under his command to Northern Iraq in 1991, tasked with providing a safe haven for the Kurdish population. As commander of an 82nd Airborne Division Parachute Brigade, he headed the unit designated the lead attack element in the aborted invasion of Haiti in 1995. Among his other assignments were executive assistant to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, special assistant to the Vice Chief of Staff, US Army, and United Nations observer and Operations Officer for Observer Group Lebanon from 1985 to 1986.  He was an assistant division commander in the 1st Armored Division and the 1st Infantry Division in Bosnia-Herzogovina. As a major general, he would later command the 1st Armored Division, “The Big Red One,” when it deployed the first ground troops into Kosovo.

As a brigadier general, John Abizaid returned to his alma mater, serving as the 66th Commandant of Cadets. At West Point he significantly revised cadet training, emphasizing skills cadets needed to lead soldiers. He also established the Affirmation Ceremony and other rites of passage connecting the West Point program with service in the Army. During this time John was also a leader within his Class, helping to spearhead the Class of 1973’s gift that resulted in renovations of Grant Hall.

In subsequent years, General Abizaid’s military career took on a decidedly joint aspect. He served as Director of Plans and Policy, J-5, responsible for military strategic planning and interagency policy coordination. After the attacks of September 11, he was responsible for initiating and coordinating the rapid interagency and international response for the Joint Staff. He was subsequently appointed to the position of Director of the Joint Staff.

As the Combatant Commander of United States Central Command, he was responsible for military strategy and joint operations in the Middle East, the Horn of Africa, and Central Asia. Serving fifty-four months in combat zones both as Deputy Commander (Forward), and as the Combatant Commander, he led simultaneous international coalitions that operated in Iraq, Afghanistan, the Horn of Africa, and the Persian Gulf. He worked to advance enhancement of regional military, counter-terrorist and counter-insurgency capabilities in order to help the nations of the region help themselves against the many threats to stability they face.

His other missions included protection of the sea lanes in the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf, operations against piracy in the Arabian Sea, and support of countries throughout the region such as Yemen, UAE, Bahrain, Qatar, Oman, Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan as they confronted local and regional extremism. Concurrently, he oversaw humanitarian operations such as relief for earthquake victims in Iran and Pakistan and evacuation of American citizens from Lebanon prior to and during the Israeli-Hezbollah border conflict in 2006.

Following retirement from the military, John Abizaid was named the first Annenberg Distinguished Visiting Fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University. He now works with the Preventative Defense Project at Stanford University and Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, and he regularly speaks on leadership and international security through the Washington Speakers Bureau.  He is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and the International Institute for Strategic Studies, and he currently serves as a Director of the George Olmsted Foundation and USAA. John Abizaid also continues to serve at West Point, where he is the Distinguished Chair of the Combating Terrorism Center. Accordingly, the West Point Association of Graduates takes great pride in presenting the 2009 Distinguished Graduate Award to John P. Abizaid.