Trump is expected to pick Army chief Milley as next Joint Chiefs chairman
By COREY DICKSTEIN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: December 7, 2018
WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump is expected to reveal the Army’s top general as his choice for the next chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff on Saturday during an appearance at the annual Army-Navy football game in Philadelphia, officials said Friday.
Trump is believed to have chosen Gen. Mark Milley, who has served as Army chief of staff since 2015, as the 20th chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staffs, two U.S. officials told Stars and Stripes, confirming reports Friday by the New York Times and Washington Post. Milley would replace Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford who is slated to retire after his second two-year term as the military’s top officer concludes in October 2019.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because the White House had yet to make the announcement public. Spokesmen for Dunford and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis declined to comment Friday about the expected announcement.
Trump teased his forthcoming decision to reporters as he left the White House en route to Kansas City on Friday morning just after announcing several other high-profile nominations for his administration.
“I can give you a little hint: It will have to do with the Joint Chiefs of Staff and succession,” the president said, in an off-the-cuff remark that appeared to catch Pentagon officials off guard.
It is unusual to make the announcement of the Defense Department’s next top officer at a sporting event – even one as revered in military circles as the 128-year-old game between the U.S. Military Academy and the U.S. Naval Academy – and reveal the decision some 10 months before the transition is scheduled to take place.
The officials at the Pentagon downplayed the unconventional nature of the expected announcement, and one said Trump’s early decision was not a reflection on his opinion of Dunford.
“The president likes and respects Gen. Dunford,” the official said.
Inside the Pentagon, Milley was seen as one of two top choices to succeed Dunford alongside the Air Force’s top officer, Gen. David Goldfein, a veteran fighter pilot who has served as chief of staff of his service since 2016.
Some officials said privately that they expected Goldfein to be chosen because the Air Force was due to receive the chairmanship – two Marine generals, an Army general and a Navy admiral have served since the Air Force’s last chairman left office in 2005. However, one of the officials who spoke with Stars and Stripes said Trump favored Milley’s personality.
A Princeton-educated Green Beret, Milley has served multiple combat tours in Panama, Iraq and Afghanistan during his 38-year career. He has served in the 5th Special Force Group, the 82nd Airborne Division, the 101st Airborne Division and the 3rd Infantry Division. He later commanded the 10th Mountain Division at Fort Drum in New York, the III Corps at Fort Hood in Texas, and U.S. Army Forces Command at Fort Bragg in North Carolina before taking the reins as chief of staff in August 2015.
Milley has championed the rebuilding and expansion of the Army’s force in recent years, warning of the need to prepare now to face major, urban combat operations against a near-peer rival such as Russia or China.
He has long predicted fundamental changes in the “character of ground warfare” that would place American troops against adversaries with similar technology and weaponry, increasing the need for long-range weapons that can take out defense systems, artillery or ships. Nonetheless, such wars would require front-line fighting, he has said. Those operations would have to be fought in an expeditionary manner and not from large forward operating bases or smaller semi-permanent outposts such as those U.S. servicemembers have fought from in Afghanistan, Iraq and now in Syria.
“On the future battlefield, if you stay in one place longer than two or three hours, you will be dead,” Milley said in 2016. “That obviously places demands on human endurance.”
In recent years, Milley has been on the forefront of change for the Army. He helped the service form its first new major command in some four decades – the four-star Army Futures Command stood up in Austin, Texas in the summer to focus on modernizing the service’s warfighting equipment.
And he is the architect of the Army’s other newest units – it’s Security Force Assistance Brigades, which are designed to carry the weight of the service’s mission to train, assist and advise partner nation militaries to combat insurgents or other adversaries. The service so far has built two of six planned brigades. The first, from Fort Benning in Georgia, just returned from its inaugural deployment in Afghanistan and the second, from Fort Bragg, is slated to deploy to Afghanistan early next year.
In addition to the scheduled change of the chairman, several other key slots on the Joint Chiefs of Staff are scheduled to open next year. The positions of vice chairman, Army chief of staff now held by Milley, chief of naval operations and the Marine Corps’ commandant are all due to be replaced by Trump in 2019.
Gen. Mark Milley shakes hands with Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Sen John MaCain, R-Ariz., on Tuesday, July 21, 2015, prior to a hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington D.C., where committee members considered Milley's nomination to be the next Army chief of staff. Sen. Joe Manchin III, D-W.Va., looks on.
CARLOS BONGIOANNI/STARS AND STRIPES