A Day in the Life of a Four-Star General

Guy Raz recently took a trip with Gen. Gene Renuart, one of the most powerful military figures in the world. Raz offers a glimpse into what a day's work is like for a four-star general known as a combatant commander.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

NPR defense correspondent Guy Raz recently spent the day with one of the most powerful officers in the U.S. military. That day Guy was carrying around a copy of a book he's been reading on military leaders in the Roman Empire. Here's his Reporter's Notebook.

GUY RAZ: So I'm on a U.S. government plane flying from Colorado Springs to Fort Lewis in Washington State. The book I've got is Tom Holland's "Rubicon." It's about the final years of the Roman Republic and the rise of the Empire. Every once in a while my eyes start to close, chariot I think, this is a bumpy chariot, and then I open my eyes and we're hitting turbulence at 35,000 feet above the Rockies.

It's a modern chariot of course; a gulf stream jet. Transportation for America's version of a Roman legat; a powerful general in charge of a swath of Rome's empire. On this chariot slash plane the general is Gene Renuart. He's probably one of the most powerful people you've never heard of. Renuart's a regional combatant commander. All U.S. forces in North America fall under his command. There are six such commanders around the world and each man is in charge of all U.S. forces in whichever chunk of the world (inaudible).

General VICTOR "GENE" RENUART (U.S. Regional Combatant Commander): It takes a little getting used to and you can certainly let it become way more comfortable than you'd like.

RAZ: Commanders have a jet plane at their beck and call complete with first class service, a plate of roast chicken with mango salsa on this flight. When the commander touches down, he's met by a welcoming party, an entourage of officers usually surrounds a man with four stars on his shoulder. I've seen it in Iraq and I've seen it in Washington.

Gen. RENUART: Carry on, carry on, thanks, carry on. The notoriety, the attention you get, if you're not careful can go to your head and certainly there are examples in the past where folks have let it happen. But I think you have to keep yourself as well grounded as you can.

RAZ: Especially because time in a command is limited, normally about four years. Retirement usually means golf, maybe a book deal, some consulting gigs, but in Rome, depending on how he behaved, a legat's career as a military man ended in one of three ways. A seat in the Senate, exile, or a death sentence.

SIMON: NPR's Guy Raz. And he'll be hosting WEEKEND ALL THINGS CONSIDERED later today.

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