Gen. Peter Chiarelli, a Queen Anne High School graduate, is retiring as Army vice chief of staff. A retirement ceremony Tuesday included remarks from Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.

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Gen. Peter Chiarelli, a Queen Anne High School graduate who rose to the position of Army vice chief of staff, where he led a push to improve soldier’s welfare, is retiring.

The Stars and Stripes reports that Chiarelli, 61, was honored Tuesday at a retirement ceremony in Virginia, where he was praised for his work to reduce the rise of soldier suicides and other efforts to help the Army cope with the strains of long-running wars.

“When former [Defense] Secretary [Robert] Gates promoted Pete to that post, he said that he knew that as long as there was a single soldier in harm’s way, as long as there was a single Army family in need, Pete would not rest,” Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said. “And for more than three years as vice chief of staff, Pete has not rested.”

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., chair of the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs, says Chiarelli has been an innovator whose work on behalf of service members should serve as a model for the military.

“As our military faces the mounting toll of the invisible wounds of war, General Chiarelli has not only spoken out, he has forced action. And that’s why he’s often been the first phone call I make,” Murray said in a written statement.

In an interview with the Washington Post, Chiarelli said he wants to return to Washington state, where his mother still lives.

His military career began after graduating from Seattle University, where he was enrolled in the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps program as Vietnam War protests roiled the city and campus.

Commissioned as a second lieutenant, Chiarelli was initially assigned to Fort Lewis. During the decades between the end of the Vietnam War and 9/11, Chiarelli climbed through the Army ranks, and took key leadership roles during the Iraq war.

By 2004, as the Iraq insurgency was set to explode, Chiarelli arrived in Baghdad in command of the Fort Hood, Texas-based 1st Calvary Division.

He returned to Iraq in 2006 to oversee daily military operations for some 160,000 troops.

While serving in Iraq, Chiarelli worked to improve public health, put people to work and find other ways to help convince the Iraqis the American invasion could make a positive difference in their lives.

In 2007, he was appointed as a senior aide to Defense Secretary Robert Gates, and for the past three years he served as the Army vice chief, the service’s No. 2 uniformed position.

At the Pentagon, Chiarelli’s duties have included overseeing the shift from an emphasis on conventional warfare fought with high-tech weaponry to a 21st-century focus on fighting smaller conflicts with counterinsurgency tactics aimed at winning over civilians.

But his highest-profile role has been in shaping the Army’s response to the plight of soldiers stressed from the long wars.

Chiarelli said Tuesday that while progress has been made — including a slight reduction in the overall Army suicide rate — work healing the strains of 10 years of war is far from over, according to Stars and Stripes.

“We must, must, must continue” the efforts now in place, he said.

Hal Bernton: 206-464-2581 or