The Cable

Pentagon Names Two Brainiacs as New Army, Navy Chiefs

The Pentagon has plucked two brainy candidates out of relatively new assignments to lead the Army and Navy for the next four years, tapping Gen. Mark Milley as Army chief of staff and Adm. John Richardson as chief of Naval operations. Defense Secretary Ash Carter announced the nominations Wednesday, and neither Milley nor Richardson spoke ...

ARLINGTON, VA - MAY 07:  Secretary of Defense Ash Carter speaks to the media during a briefing at the Pentagon May 7, 2015 in Arlington, Virginia. Secretary Carter talked about various issues including the situation in the Middle East and the Department of Defense budget request.  (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
ARLINGTON, VA - MAY 07: Secretary of Defense Ash Carter speaks to the media during a briefing at the Pentagon May 7, 2015 in Arlington, Virginia. Secretary Carter talked about various issues including the situation in the Middle East and the Department of Defense budget request. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

The Pentagon has plucked two brainy candidates out of relatively new assignments to lead the Army and Navy for the next four years, tapping Gen. Mark Milley as Army chief of staff and Adm. John Richardson as chief of Naval operations.

Defense Secretary Ash Carter announced the nominations Wednesday, and neither Milley nor Richardson spoke during the Pentagon chief’s brief remarks to reporters. Richardson’s nomination was already widely reported, but Milley’s came as something of a surprise to many in the Army until just hours before the announcement.

Carter called Richardson “a bold thinker, a tremendous leader and the go-to officer for many of the Navy’s tough issues in recent years.” He also said he had to wrestle Richardson “away from the Secretary of Energy” — a nod to the admiral’s relatively short tenure at Naval Reactors, where for the past three years he was focused on nuclear issues in a joint Defense-Energy program.

That job specifically sought to keep Richardson from rotating into a new position for at least eight years. But his work on the Ohio-class nuclear submarine — which is a key component of the service’s modernization plan — likely won over Carter and other top managers searching for a new Navy leader. Carter has made upgrading the U.S. military’s nuclear arsenal a key priority.

Carter also knew Milley from time the two spent together in Afghanistan in 2013, when the Army general was the second-in-command of the war. Carter recounted flying with Milley to Afghanistan’s western Herat province the day after the U.S. Consulate there was targeted in a September 2013 truck bombing, where he “saw Mark take command of the scene, and stand with our people there.”

At the time, Milley was serving under Marine Corps Gen. Joseph Dunford, whom the White House recently tapped as the next chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Milley currently heads the Army’s Forces Command at Ft. Bragg, N.C., which tasks and manages missions for soldiers based in the U.S. He has served there for less than a year, and took over for Gen. John Allyn, who is now the Army’s vice chief.

More recently, Milley oversaw the Army’s investigation of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who walked off his post in Afghanistan in 2009 and has since been charged with desertion.

He has been in and out of Iraq and Afghanistan, and was the commanding general of Ft. Hood, Texas, in March 2014 when a soldier opened fire, killing four — including himself — and wounding 16 others.

As a lieutenant in the early 1980s, Milley spent two years in the 5th Special Forces Group, which now works on special operations in the Mideast, but no information about his time there is publicly available. Earlier versions of his official biography says he commanded special forces units.

The Association of the U.S. Army called for a quick confirmation for Milley, “knowing that the Army faces many challenges, and will benefit from what we know will be his proven skill as a leader,” the group’s president, retired Gen. Gordon Sullivan said in a statement.

With Ivy League degrees from Princeton and Columbia University, Milley was commissioned as an armor officer in 1980 and has served with infantry and Special Forces units, deploying to Panama, Iraq, and Afghanistan.

Richardson is rooted in science. He graduated from the Naval Academy in 1982 with a degree in physics and earned Master’s degrees from Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. He also commanded the nuclear submarine USS Honolulu.

 

Photo Credit: Mark Wilson/Getty Images

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