Maj. Gen. Harold J. Greene had served more than three decades in uniform without a combat tour when he got the assignment last year: He was wanted in Kabul to help train the Afghan National Security Forces.
Jim Costigan, a former co-worker, golf partner and friend, had asked Greene the question before. Now he asked again.
"I said, 'Harry, no one's going to be critical of you if you retire,' " Costigan, a retired Army colonel, remembered Wednesday. "'Just retire, now.'
"And he said to me, 'I sent soldiers, officers, NCOs, men and women to similar assignments over the last 10 years. How can I not go?'
"That's the kind of guy Harry Greene was."
Greene, the deputy commanding general of the combined security transition command in Afghanistan, was shot to death Tuesday by a man in an Afghan uniform at the national military academy in Kabul.
The upstate New York native leaves his wife, retired Army Col. Sue Myers, a daughter, Amelia, and a son, Matthew, a recent graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. He was 55.
His death has hit home at Aberdeen Proving Ground, where he served in key acquisition roles from 2009 to 2012, and where he remained a presence after moving on to the Pentagon and Afghanistan. He visited as recently as May, when he spoke to the Aberdeen Chapter of the Association of the U.S. Army.
Dale A. Ormond, director of the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command, which Greene served from 2009 to 2011, described him as "a man of uncommon and exemplary professionalism, competence and candor, in the most profound way."
Stephen D. Kreider, the Army's program executive officer for intelligence, electronic warfare and sensors, a job Greene held from 2011 to 2012, called him "an inspirational leader" who "lived in dedication to family, friends, Army and nation."
Costigan, who met Greene at the Army War College in Carlisle, Pa., in 2002 and worked with him for several years afterward, said Greene was "the best" at his job.
"Army acquisition is not like going to Wal-Mart and saying, 'I want that,' " he said. "It's a very, very convoluted process. Harry knew it better than anybody.
"As he progressed up the ranks, he took it very seriously to make sure the people that worked for him were trained right," Costigan said, while always keeping in mind the "individual soldier that was going to receive the equipment that he was procuring and maintaining."
Costigan said Greene "took his job seriously. He didn't take himself seriously. He could laugh with people. He could laugh at himself."
Greene lived in recent years at Aberdeen Proving Ground and at Fort Meade. In a note to thank the Aberdeen Chapter of the Association of the U.S. Army for sending him care packages in February, he described his work in Kabul.
"We are making noticeable progress in developing the" Afghan National Security Forces, he wrote. "You should be especially proud of the people — service members, government civilians and contractors — dedicated to improving the ANSF. They are true patriots and remarkably capable."
Retired Col. Chuck Hoppe, who worked with Greene at Fort Monmouth, N.J., and, after base realignment, Aberdeen, described him as "phenomenally brilliant."
"He had a way with being able to articulate a problem and being able to work the solution," he said. "He was a firm believer that there was a solution — we just had to find it. and sometimes that just meant working harder to get it."
Hoppe said Greene was always available to those who needed him.
"He never, ever would tell someone 'No' if they asked for a minute of his time. It didn't matter how busy he was — if you walked by and said, 'Hey sir, have you got a minute?' the answer was always 'Yes.'"
Outside work, Hoppe said, you wouldn't know that Greene was a two-star general, or held four master's degrees and a doctorate in materials science.
"He was a fun, ordinary, loving father and husband," he said. "He was fun to be around. He was just one of the guys. … He was all about his family, and being a soldier."
Costigan said Greene was all those things. Also, a huge fan of the Red Sox and Boston's other teams. But not much of a golfer.
Costigan organized weekly outings for the senior leaders at Fort Monmouth and, later, Aberdeen Proving Ground.
"There's nobody that played golf worse than Harry Greene. He didn't even keep score," Costigan said. "But he was there every Saturday because he enjoyed being there with Sue and with his friends."
Costigan was watching "Good Morning America" Tuesday when he saw the news.
"I knew where Harry was, and I knew what his job was," he said. "They just reported it was a two-star general and it was at one of their service academies, and I said, 'That's Harry.' I just put two and two together, and it kept adding up to four."
Now, seeing the reports is surreal.
"I watch the news, I read the headlines. They talk about Maj. Gen. Harold Greene. That's not Maj. Gen. Harold Greene — that's Harry.
"Holy smoke. What's Harry doing in USA Today?"