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With JFCOM closure, what then for Odierno?

With JFCOM walking to the executioner’s gallows, Iraq war commander Gen. Ray Odierno will have about one year in Norfolk before the military needs to find him a new one.

You know what other jobs will need filling around this time next year? The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Army’s chief of staff.

And so the parlor game begins. Gen. Ray Odierno has given a lot of years in Iraq, far away from home, away from his family, and many expected he would get a plum job when he returned to the States. U.S. Joint Forces Command was that cushy assignment; a much lower-stressed post in beautiful coastal Virginia, not that far from Washington, DC.

Now it seems Secretary of Defense Robert Gates will keep Odierno even closer to heel.

“I expect that it will take about a year to carry out this change, and I've told Ray that his assignment at JFCOM is essentially the same...as his assignment in Iraq, and that is to work himself out of a job," said Defense Secretary Robert Gates, on Monday. "And then I'll find a new and better one for him.”

Not many jobs in the military are better than combatant commander, especially when you’ve already got a 4th star. You can shift sideways, or to sexier posts. 

Navy Adm. James Stavridis went from Southern Command in Miami, keeping an eye on drug runners, to be NATO Supreme Allied Commander, a coveted job in Europe that’s highly-visible with travel duties across the continent and intimate involvement in NATO’s role in the Afghanistan war.

Marine Corps Gen. James Mattis was swimming in planning and doctrine studies as the previous 4-star JFCOM commander and even had one foot in AARP waiting room. Then he was called back to replace Gen. David Petraeus at CENTCOM, and suddenly “Mad Dog” Mattis is overseeing Petraeus, both wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and the entire Middle East.

CENTCOM is in Tampa, but that’s no Florida retirement home.

But dreamers dream big. At the end of September 2011 when Odierno is packing the last box at JFCOM, it happens that Adm. Mike Mullen’s second term ends as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. It’s customary for the CJCS to serve only two terms, though already some have called for Mullen to remain on in perpetuity. But Mullen needs a successor and those who thought Petraeus was the go-to guy were tripped up when he took the Afghan war command, possibly locking him down in Kabul for a long fight.

Army Chief of Staff Gen. George Casey’s 4-year term also expires next year, though a little earlier in April. Casey also previously was an Iraq war commander, like Odierno. But President George Bush removed him from the Iraq command after some of the worst years of that war to send in Petraeus. Casey's soft landing was as Army chief, in April 2007.

So, Gates will have some decisions to make. Which brings us to the next parlor game: If Gates is going to find Odierno a new job next year, does that mean Gates will still be in office this time next year?

“As far as I'm concerned, all I will say is that I'm going to be here longer than either I or others thought,” Gate said, sheepishly, in the briefing room on Monday. 

The Gates Guessing Game is a popular one around the D and E rings of the Pentagon.

Most know that he had a little countdown clock on his desk (or was it in his pocket?) during the Bush years, set to the minute he would again leave Washington, D.C. -- you know know, that horrible place in which he’s spent the vast majority of his adult life --  to retire to Washington state, where he frequently sojourns.

But President Barack Obama asked Gates to stay past the Bush yearsa. In December 2009, Obama again asked for more time and Gates promised to give one year with the agreement they’d reassess this December.

In the building, people are saying with great to little confidence that Gates will leave this fall...no, next April or May...no, perhaps he may never leave through Obama’s entire first time.

Feel free to put on your blindfold and throw your dart.

Indeed, on Monday morning, after the Pentagon announced unexpectedly there would be a Gates press conference later that afternoon, more than few reporters asked: “Do you think he’ll retire?”

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