Gen. David Petraeus, commander of U.S. Central Command, was in town Thursday for Fort Benning’s Officer Candidate School graduation of 152 newly minted second lieutenants.
Such events typically don’t draw top brass, but one of the graduates, 2nd Lt. Peter Sprenger, has long-standing ties to Petraeus.
Sprenger, 26, served under Petraeus in the 101st Airborne Division in Iraq. On Dec. 9, 2003, he was 10 months into his first deployment when an insurgent detonated a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device. Sprenger lost his right eye in the attack.
He is the only known soldier on record with one eye to have completed Ranger School, a feat he accomplished in 2005.
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“I’m not aware of any other one-eyed Ranger school graduates,” Petraeus said. “Or of any one-eyed OCS graduates.”
For these reasons, Petraeus has opened his door to Sprenger, mentoring and assisting him at almost every point in his career.
“There’s a pretty special relationship here that goes back to when he was wounded, really when we fought our way to Baghdad,” Petraeus said. “(We) served the first year together in Iraq in the 101st Airborne Division. He was the most seriously wounded in the particular attack on his forward operating base and I’ve tracked his progress ever since.”
After recovering from his injuries, Sprenger expressed the desire to remain in the Army. Petraeus put his weight behind this request and Sprenger went on to earn a Ranger tab.
“There are some difficulties,” said Sprenger of Stockton, Calif. “After awhile I don’t see it as a disability at all. I actually don’t really like people calling it a disability because I think with training and training yourself I know I can do things just as well as a lot of the other guys I work with and I respect just as much.”
With Ranger School behind him, Sprenger set his sights on returning to Iraq. He accomplished the feat in 2006, this time as a squad leader with the 101st Airborne Division.
Following his second tour of duty, then-Sgt. Sprenger decided to leave the Army and pursue his college degree.
After graduating from California State Polytechnic University-Pomona, Sprenger asked his four-star mentor for another favor.
“As he approached graduation, he contacted me and said that he wanted to come back in the Army,” Petraeus said. “There was something he missed in life and it was those with whom he used to serve and the important missions they all performed together and what individuals like him would term ‘The brotherhood of the close fight.’ It’s a pretty special relationship that develops between those who have been out at the tip of the spear and so forth, and he’s a pretty special individual.”
Sprenger added, “I think once we start a mission, if we have the capability and the ability to serve, especially at a time of need like right now with the Global War on Terror, I see it as an obligation for myself to do so.”
Sprenger’s determination to remain in the ranks was no match for the level of resistance he encountered by the Army to accept him back.
“The Army at that time was still coming to grips with how to deal with individuals like these,” Petraeus said. “In the past we have not recruited one-eyed soldiers, needless to say ... Since then, certainly the process has developed to where we accommodate our wounded warriors that want to stay in the ranks.”
Petraeus said Sprenger has proven repeatedly that the Army’s top officials made the right decision when they allowed him to stay.
In the coming months, Sprenger will again join the 101st Airborne Division and likely deploy for a third tour of duty.
And just as he has from the time Sprenger was injured, Petraeus said his door and e-mail will always be open to him.
“I think most of our Army leaders take great pride, really feel honored to mentor individuals like this,” Petraeus said. “That’s what’s gone on over the course of the last six years or so and it will continue.”
The Officer Candadiate School’s graduation took place Thursday at 1 p.m. at the Columbus Convention & Trade Center in downtown Columbus.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.