Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter announced Wednesday that President Obama has selected a career infantry officer with extensive experience in Iraq and Afghanistan and a naval officer who has commanded a variety of surface ships and submarines to lead the Army and Navy in coming years.
Gen. Mark A. Milley, 57, and Adm. John M. Richardson, 55, will serve as the chief of staff of the Army and the chief of naval operations, respectively, Carter said. Their selection requires confirmation by the Senate. They will replace Army Gen. Raymond T. Odierno and Adm. Jonathan W. Greenert, whose traditional four-year stints leading their services expire later this year.
Carter called Milley a “warrior and a statesmen” and Richardson a “go-to officer” for many challenges the Navy has faced in recent years. He appeared alongside them at the Pentagon.
Richardson, a 33-year veteran, has served as the director of the Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program since late 2012. A Naval Academy graduate, he has impressed his senior officers and peers for years with innovative thinking and leadership in tough times, said retired Adm. James Stavridis, who has known him for about 20 years.
“He has the ability to disagree without being disagreeable,” said Stavridis, now the dean of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. “He can tell you the tough thing, but do it in the way to make you understand the background.”
Odierno said in a statement that Obama has chosen a “phenomenal leader” in Milley, a Princeton graduate.
“General Milley is an experienced, combat-tested and caring leader,” Odierno said. “I have known General Milley for many years, have served with him in Iraq and watched him in Afghanistan. I am confident that he is the right leader to lead our Army into the future.”
Army Secretary John McHugh said in a statement that he has watched the general lead soldiers with distinction in Iraq and Afghanistan, and thanked Obama for nominating him.
“Should the Senate confirm him, I am confident that Gen.Milley will be an exceptional chief of staff and member of the Joint Chiefs,” McHugh’s statement said. “I also want to thank Gen. Odierno for his many years of service, particularly his support and partnership as the [chief of staff of the Army] over the last four years.”
Since August, Milley has been the commanding general of U.S. Army Forces Command at Fort Bragg, N.C., which provides soldiers to be deployed to combatant commanders across the world. He took on a number of high-profile assignments prior to that, including leading tens of thousands of soldiers with III Corps at Fort Hood, Tex., commanding combat troops in Afghanistan in 2013 and 2014, and overseeing the 10th Mountain Division at Fort Drum, N.Y.
Milley and Richardson share a recent history of managing some of their service’s most sensitive issues.
Milley was the top officer at Fort Hood, Tex., in April 2014 when a soldier opened fire on colleagues, killing three and wounding at least 12 others before turning the gun on himself. More recently, he has overseen the criminal investigation of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, the U.S. soldier who was recovered last year after five years in captivity. Bergdahl was charged in March with desertion and misbehavior before the enemy.
Richardson was tapped to investigate the Sept. 16, 2013, mass shooting at the Washington Navy Yard by a defense contractor who killed 12 people and injured at least three others before police killed him in a shootout. The admiral found that if erratic behavior the shooter, Aaron Alexis, displayed earlier had been reported, the violence could have been prevented. More recently, Richardson led a probe of Navy personnel accused of cheating on nuclear proficiency exams, prompting at least 34 people to be tossed from the service.
Carter said Wednesday that Milley impressed him while he was the commander of the International Security Assistance Force Joint Command in Afghanistan. Carter, then the deputy defense secretary, traveled with Milley to the U.S. consulate in the western province of Herat after it was attacked by insurgents on Sept. 13, 2013.
“Mark and I flew to Herat the day after an attack on the U.S. consulate there, and I saw Mark take command of the scene and stand with our people there,” Carter said. “I was impressed by his candor and good judgment, and I knew right away that the had even more to offer to the United States Army.”
Carter added that Richardson was a clear choice for the Navy, citing his recent work.
“He’s a bold thinker, a tremendous leader, and the go-to officer for many of the Navy’s tough issues in recent years, from preparing for the Ohio-class replacement ballistic missile submarine to handling problems of integrity and ethics,” the secretary said.
If confirmed, Milley and Richardson will join a rapidly changing brain trust at the Pentagon. In October, the Joint Chiefs of Staff is expected to get a new chairman (Marine Gen. Joseph F. Dunford has been nominated for the job), vice chairman (Air Force Gen. Paul J. Selva is expected to take the position) and commandant of the Marine Corps (replacing Dunford, who is moving up). Gen. Mark A. Welsh III has served as the chief of staff of the Air Force for nearly three years.