published Sunday, May 17th, 2009

Pick to lead Afghanistan command has Chattanooga ties


by Lauren Gregory
Audio clip

Lucy Bright Thatcher and Fletcher Bright

Army Lt. Gen. Stanley Allen McChrystal is well-known in Washington for his clandestine operations work in Iraq and recent nomination as commander of NATO and U.S. forces in Afghanistan.

But around here he’s just known as Allen, a well-mannered, intellectual history buff who runs, hikes and bikes religiously.

The man President Barack Obama has tasked with turning around the war on terror is a member of a well-known family in the Chattanooga area. Lt. Gen. McChrystal is the son of Mary Gardner Bright of Lookout Mountain, whose aunt and namesake founded the Bright School in 1913.

“I feel like his roots are sort of here,” said Lucy Bright Thatcher, Mary Gardner Bright’s first cousin, who still lives on the mountain. She hosted the lieutenant general last summer. While here, he visited his mother’s childhood home and the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park.

He’s intelligent, driven and perfect for the job, according to Margaret Thompson, of Chattanooga, who, as Mrs. Thatcher’s daughter, grew up alongside Lt. Gen. McChrystal and visited him at West Point.

But it will be interesting to see how he takes to being in the spotlight, Ms. Thompson said.

“He’s very humble,” she said. “He’s totally about his men.”

The 54-year-old has never lived in Chattanooga, but he spent several summers in the area as a child, joining a few local baseball teams while he was here, Mrs. Thatcher said.

His mother lived with Mrs. Thatcher’s family while she attended the University of Chattanooga in the 1940s.

The future Mrs. McChrystal founded the school’s Kappa Delta sorority chapter and worked as a copy editor at the Chattanooga Free Press while attending classes. She was “informally engaged” to Lt. Gen. McChrystal’s father, Herbert J. McChrystal Jr., at the time, Mrs. Thatcher recalls.

Herbert McChrystal was a career military man and served in Vietnam twice during Lt. Gen. McChrystal’s childhood, she said. He retired as a major general and now lives in Kingsport, Tenn.

Lt. Gen. McChrystal was the fourth of the couple’s six children and was named for his aunt, Stanley Bright Williams of Atlanta, Mrs. Thatcher said as she sat reminiscing with her brother, Fletcher Bright.

“He might not want us telling people he was named for a woman,” Mr. Bright said with a chuckle.

Mrs. Williams recalled trips to Arlington, Va., to visit his family and watch his boyhood baseball games. She said she could tell at the time that he’d become something great.

“He was such a good pitcher that he could look over at his family in the stands and call the strike before he threw the ball,” Mrs. Williams said.

Lt. Gen. McChrystal’s mother died of a blood disorder at the age of 45, when he was only about 14.

“It was a blow to him,” Mrs. Thatcher said.

He ultimately decided to follow in his father’s footsteps, enrolling at the United States Military Academy at West Point in New York. His career in the military has included special operations work in both Afghanistan and Iraq. His current post is joint staff director at the Pentagon.

Lt. Gen. McChrystal is awaiting Senate approval before taking over Army Gen. David McKiernan’s command in Afghanistan. He is expected to be confirmed, according to New York Times reports, though critics have pointed to his questionable role in the aftermath of the 2004 death of Cpl. Pat Tillman, the former Arizona Cardinal football player who was accidentally shot to death by American forces.

The Army hid that fact from the public for more than a month, and an investigative report released in 2007, although clearing McChrystal of any official wrongdoing, criticized him for not immediately notifying Cpl. Tillman’s family of the possibility that he had been killed by friendly fire.

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