The two-star U.S. Army general who was killed in Afghanistan in an insider attack Tuesday was a native of upstate New York who held three advanced degrees from USC and whom colleagues described as a family man and a brilliant logistician with a quick sense of humor.
Maj. Gen. Harold J. Greene, 55, known to friends as Harry, was believed to be the highest-ranking U.S. military official killed in action since the war began in Afghanistan in 2001. The shooter, who was wearing an Afghan army uniform, was also killed in the attack near Kabul, but not before he wounded 14 others.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with Maj. Gen. Harold J. Greene’s family, and the families of our soldiers who were injured today in the tragic events that took place in Afghanistan,” Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno said in a statement. “These soldiers were professionals, committed to the mission. It is their service and sacrifice that define us as an Army.”
Greene was on his first combat tour in Afghanistan, where he was serving as the deputy commander for training Afghan troops, an appointment that was announced in January by the Pentagon.
He wanted to be in Afghanistan, said a Defense Department official familiar with him. Greene, an expert in logistics, told a colleague in March “how happy he was to be over there” working directly with soldiers and Afghan troops, said the official, who was not authorized to speak publicly.
Greene leaves behind his wife, retired Col. Sue Myers, who was a study director and a professor at the U.S. Army War College in Carlisle, Pa., and two grown children — a son, Matthew, who is a lieutenant and a graduate of West Point, and a daughter, Amelia.
“He was an amazing man. I think the thing everyone remembers about Harry was how intelligent he was, his wicked sense of humor, how willing he was to step in to lend a hand,” said his friend Felicia Campbell, vice president of the Greater Los Angeles Chapter of the Assn. of the United States Army.
In addition to holding deployments around the U.S. and the world — including at Ft. Leonard Wood in Missouri, in Germany and in Istanbul, Turkey — Greene was highly educated, having earned five advanced degrees.
After graduating from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y., in 1980, he received his military commission as an engineer officer, according to his professional biography.
Greene went on to obtain master’s degrees in engineering from both Rensselaer and USC, a master’s in science at USC, a master’s in strategic studies from the U.S. Army War College and a doctorate in materials science from USC.
Florian Mansfeld, a retired professor at USC who oversaw Greene’s doctorate work, said Greene was studying corrosion and the reliability of rotor blades for helicopters.
“You don’t want to be in a helicopter when the rotor blades fall off,” Mansfeld said.
Other students teasingly called the older student “Sgt. Greene,” despite the fact that he was an officer by that point, said Mansfeld, who remembered Greene as a “very popular,” productive and diligent student who never turned in an assignment late.
By the time Greene finished his doctorate in 1992, he was the father of two young children.
“He was so proud of them,” Mansfeld said. “Every time he writes or sends me a letter for Christmas and New Year’s, he would write about his two children and how great they were.”
Greene’s work would take him through different corners of the world and throughout the bureaucracy of the Army as he worked to update old systems and procure new equipment for the troops as the military moved from one conflict to another.
“Just a brilliant, brilliant guy,” said Lawrence Levine, an Army defense analyst who worked with Greene at Ft. Leavenworth in Kansas in the mid-2000s. “This was a man who was working with Microsoft and commercial vendors, who gave his heart and soul to make sure that soldiers were getting the absolute best that we could provide.”
As Campbell described his duties, “These acquisition guys are out there looking at systems and making sure the right thing gets to the soldiers.... These are the guys who are out there to bring them the stuff that they need.”
U.S. Army general killed in Afghanistan remembered as ‘an amazing man’She added: “Great soldier, great man, patriot. It’s a tremendous loss to our country.”
Times staff writer David S. Cloud in Washington contributed to this report.