WASHINGTON – Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on Friday named Mark Lippert, a Navy veteran and Pentagon official, as his chief of staff.
Lippert, 40, currently assistant secretary of defense for Asian and Pacific security affairs, takes over May 1 as Hagel’s right-hand man. Marcel Lettre, Hagel’s acting chief of staff for the moment, will become Lippert’s deputy, and later move to an still-undetermined senior position, officials said.
A White House insider, Lippert has ties to both Hagel and President Barack Obama that stretch back years. He accompanied both men, when they were still senators, on a 2008 visit to Afghanistan, where the two Senate Foreign Relations Committee members solidified their relationship while meeting top officials and troops on the ground. From 2005 to 2008, Lippert was a foreign policy advisor for then-Sen. Obama.
As chief of staff, Lippert will assist Hagel on policy deliberations and interagency matters. He’ll also serve as an important interlocutor between Hagel and various components of the Pentagon as Hagel, who took over in late February, acclimates to the job and solidifies his management of the Defense Department.
Defense officials say that Lippert, who studied Chinese in Beijing as a graduate student, has played a key role in DOD’s push to deepen defense ties with Asian nations as the Pentagon implements a new strategy aimed at building U.S. influence in Asia.
“He has transformed our relationships in the Pacific” – strengthening ties with Japan, maintaining the relationship with Korea, and making new inroads in Southeast Asia, a defense official speaking on the condition of anonymity said.
Before he was confirmed as an assistant secretary of defense in 2012, Lippert deployed as a Navy reservist to both Afghanistan and Iraq as intelligence officer, according to his official DOD biography. He received a Bronze Star in for his service with the Navy SEALs in Iraq in 2007 and 2008.
Lippert served as chief of staff of the National Security Council in 2009, where he clashed with National Security Advisor Gen. Jim Jones, who claimed Lippert had leaked damaging information about him to the press.
Lippert resigned from the White House job in 2009 to return to active duty in the Navy, and served part of his two-year mobilization in Afghanistan as an intelligence officer for Naval Special Operations Forces.