DOVER, Del. (AP) -- The body of a two-star general killed in an Afghan "insider attack" arrived Thursday at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware to be prepared for burial at Arlington National Cemetery.
A C-17 cargo plane carrying the body of Maj. Gen. Harold Greene, 55, a native of Guilderland, and graduate of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, landed under blue skies at the Dover base, home to the nation’s largest military mortuary.
Air Force chaplain Maj. Melvin K. Smith boarded the plane to offer a prayer. White-gloved soldiers then solemnly carried a flag-draped metal case with Greene’s remains to a waiting mortuary vehicle as Army Secretary John McHugh stood solemnly and Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno gave a farewell salute.
In an unusual step for casualty transfers at Dover, members of Greene’s family were escorted onto the plane at their request to thank members of the flight crew.
Greene is the highest-ranked U.S. officer to be killed in combat since 1970 during the Vietnam War. Greene, a 34-year U.S. Army veteran, also is the highest-ranked American officer killed in combat in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
An Afghan soldier killed Greene and wounded 15 other allied troops Tuesday, including a German general and two Afghan generals. The soldier who opened fire was subsequently killed in a shootout. There was no indication that Greene was specifically targeted.
An Afghan military official said Wednesday that the gunman, who went by the name Rafiqullah, hid in a bathroom with a NATO assault rifle, then opened fire when a group of officers from international forces passed by. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to release the information. A second Afghan military official corroborated his account.
There has been no claim of responsibility in the shooting.
In a 34-year career that began at Fort Polk, Louisiana, Greene earned a reputation as an inspiring leader with a sense of humility. He had been in Afghanistan since January, serving as deputy commander of a support command called the Combined Security Transition Command, in Kabul.
At the time of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks Greene was serving at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, and when the U.S. invaded Iraq in March 2003 he was a student at the Army War College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, at the rank of lieutenant colonel.
Greene flourished in the less glamorous side of the Army that develops, tests, builds and supplies soldiers with equipment and technology. That is a particularly difficult job during wartime, since unconventional or unanticipated battlefield challenges like roadside bombs in Iraq and Afghanistan, call for urgent improvements in equipment.
In 2009-2011, for example, he served as deputy commanding general of the Army’s Research, Development and Engineering Command and senior commander of the Natick Soldier System Center at Aberdeen Proving Ground in Aberdeen, Maryland. During that tour of duty he gained the rank of brigadier general, and at his promotion ceremony in December 2009 he was lauded for his leadership skills and ability to inspire those around him.
After earning a bachelor of science degree in materials engineering and ae master’s degree in industrial engineering at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Greene studied at the University of Southern California and also attended the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College at Leavenworth, Kansas.
His awards include the Legion of Merit, the Distinguished Service Medal, a Meritorious Service Award and an Army Commendation Medal.
Greene and his wife, Susan, lived in the Washington suburb of Falls Church, Virginia, where neighbors recalled he would often go for morning runs, The Washington Post reported. The Greenes’ son Matthew also is in the Army and their daughter, Amelia, recently graduated from Binghamton University in New York.
Meanwhile, in New York State, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo directed that flags on state government buildings be flown at half-staff on Thursday in honor of Greene.
In making the announcement, Cuomo said, "It is with great sadness that we learn of the death of Major General Harold J. Greene," Governor Cuomo said. "Major General Greene was an Albany native who earned his commission as an engineer officer shortly after graduating from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and he dedicated more than 30 years of his life in service to his country. On behalf of all New Yorkers, I offer my thoughts and prayers to the friends and family of Major General Greene. We will never forget his sacrifice, and we will honor his service with pride."