To larger audiences, retired U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Steven L. Arnold often talks about his experiences in Iraq or Afghanistan.
And smaller groups might hear him "rant on the 10 greatest problems" in the U.S., he said.
"But we don't want to do that tonight," Arnold told the audience that filled the Gainesville Civic Center Tuesday night. "Tonight, what I think is appropriate and important is to say ... that with all of our problems, concerns and challenges, it's really great to be an American."
Arnold spoke at the Northeast Georgia History Center's Patriotic Dinner, the closing event in a monthlong focus on patriotism and a key fundraiser for the center at Brenau University.
The event also included a video presentation featuring interviews with area residents on the subject of patriotism.
Arnold, the guest speaker, talked about a 40-year military career spanning the globe, including stops in Vietnam, Saudi Arabia and Somalia. He served as the commanding general for the Third U.S. Army.
"It's amazing what you see around the world today, and I can tell you there's no place like the USA," said the graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y.
"In spite of our challenges, it's a wonderful place to be a patriot."
He described the people and customs of the places he visited.
"What I found in Saudi Arabia is a lot different than Gainesville," said Arnold, who now lives in Big Canoe in North Georgia. "This is a place of culture and mores and rules and regulations much different than we're accustomed to."
He recalled his time in Somalia, an East Africa nation beset by civil war and famine.
"It was total chaos. Here we are some 20 years later and Somalia today is total chaos. It hasn't changed," Arnold said. "You say, ‘OK, we'll go our duty there, but I'm glad I don't live there.'"
He also talked about conditions in Iraq.
Life "is much, much better today. A lot of progress has been made," Arnold said. "But we're in a very delicate stage today. We had an election in March and here it is late September and they still have not been able to form a coalition government."
He said he hopes a government will be formed soon, even though it doesn't agree totally with American interests.
"But it will be their own way of forming an elected government," Arnold said. "So, little steps for little feet. It's getting better."