Correction to This Article
An earlier version of this story listed the current Marine commandant as Gen. James F. Conway. It's James T. Conway.

This article also incorrectly said that Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates's choice for commandant, Gen. James F. Amos, would be the first assistant commandant to be promoted to the Marine Corps' top job. Amos would be the first in three decades.

Gen. James Amos, Marine aviator, in line to become next Corps commandant

Gen. Amos
Gen. Amos
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By Greg Jaffe
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, June 15, 2010

In a major break with tradition, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates is planning to recommend that the president select a career aviator as the next commandant of the Marine Corps, a military official said Monday night.

If nominated and confirmed, Gen. James F. Amos would be the first Marine commandant with a background as a jet pilot -- at a time when the Corps is fighting a ground-dominated war in Afghanistan -- and his selection reasserts Gates's willingness to shake up established service bureaucracies.

Amos, who is the service's assistant commandant, would also become the first Marine general promoted from that position to the Corps' top job. He served in Iraq in the early days of that conflict, but he has not led troops in Afghanistan. He has relatively less experience in waging counterinsurgency warfare than other candidates considered for the job.

Gates has said that, in selecting the commandant, he wanted someone who would help the Marine Corps chart a course beyond the current wars. In both Iraq and Afghanistan, the Marine Corps has taken on the role of a second land Army and moved away from its amphibious roots.

Gates has expressed particular concern about how the Marines would continue to attack from the sea as increasingly lethal cruise missiles push Navy ships farther from the coastline.

"What differentiates [the Marine Corps] from the Army?" Gates asked in a speech this year. "We will always have a Marine Corps. But the question is, how do you define the mission post-Iraq, post-Afghanistan? And that's the intellectual effort that I think the next commandant has to undertake."

Amos has developed a reputation among Marines as an innovative thinker about future combat, said military officials. As the Corps' assistant commandant, he has also been a passionate advocate for finding additional resources to treat Marines diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury.

In choosing Amos for commandant, Gates passed over Gen. James N. Mattis, who is widely considered one of the military's best minds when it comes to waging war on insurgents.

Amos would replace Gen. James T. Conway, whose four-year term as commandant ends this fall. Gates is expected to recommend Lt. Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., who is an infantry officer, to serve as the assistant commandant.

Gates is expected to formally submit Amos's name to President Obama in the coming days. The military official who confirmed Gates's intent Monday night spoke on the condition of anonymity because the decision is not official.

The selection of Amos to lead the Marine Corps wouldn't mark the first time that Gates has broken with tradition in choosing a service chief. In 2008, he selected a cargo pilot to lead the Air Force. Previously, all Air Force chiefs had been fighter or bomber pilots.


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