Whenever there was a reception around Phnom Penh for military officers, at Raffles or Sofitel, for national days or anniversaries, US defence attaché Colonel Mark Gillette was often seen in his US Army uniform, meeting with the other officers and diplomats.
A graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1983, Gillette had served a 30-year career around the world and had been preparing for retirement. When we met for coffee in 2012 and I asked him what he was going to do when he retired from the US Army the following year (this year) and he said he’d probably stay around Cambodia until his daughter finished school and maybe look for a job.
So imagine everyone’s surprise when Gillette was selected out of a list of hundreds of other officers around the world, promoted from full-bird Colonel to Brigadier General and given one of the world’s most important army jobs,that of US defence attaché in Beijing.
Probably as surprised as anyone on the news of his selection, Gillette was promoted to Brigadier General in a ceremony at the US Embassy in Phnom Penh on March 15 by US Ambassador William Todd.
Gillette is one of only two career Foreign Area Officers with a specialisation in China to achieve the rank of Brigadier General in the history of the US Army, Ambassador Todd told the audience.
During his years in the US Army, Gillette became an aviator and served assignments with the 1st Cavalry Division at Fort Hood, Texas, the 10th Mountain Division at Fort Drum, New York, the 24th Infantry Division and the 3rd Infantry Division at Fort Stewart, Georgia. He also served as executive officer to the Chairman of the Inter-American Defense Board in Washington.
Following Gillette’s transition to a China Foreign Area Officer, he served as Assistant Army Attaché and Army Attaché in the Philippines; for the Defense and Army Attaché in Haiti, and later for Defense and Army Attaché and Chief of the Office of Defense Cooperation in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, as well as Army Attaché in Beijing, China.
Gillette arrived in Phnom Penh in September, 2009, to take up his role as US Defense Attaché.
According to reports, Gillette served with distinction during a dangerous period in Haiti, coming to the assistance of local and American staff. Gillette is also reported to have coordinated humanitarian aid during flooding in Chengdu, China, as well as helping develop peacekeeping capabilities in Mongolia and disaster management programs in Cambodia.
General Gillette is known to be a personal friend of fellow West Point graduate General Hun Manet, the son of Prime Minister Hun Sen.
“Cambodia and the United States are indeed good friends, in an association built on mutual respect reflected, perhaps most profoundly, in the many person-to-person ties established by Brigadier General Gillette,” Ambassador Todd said.
Gillette and his wife Ingrid, who have two children, departed Phnom Penh for Beijing on Sunday.