Now that the position of defense secretary is set, the Trump transition team is focusing on selecting the civilian heads of the Army, Navy and Air Force. One of the top contenders for secretary of the Army is the colonel who led the mission that captured Saddam Hussein.
For the last two years, retired Col. James Hickey has been the senior military adviser for the Senate Armed Services Committee, with a portfolio that includes the Army and the Air Force. In December 2003, he was the head of the 4th Infantry Division’s 1st Brigade Combat Team, which along with special-forces troops was responsible for finding Hussein hidden in a spider hole near his hometown of Tikrit.
Hickey not only was the commander of the brigade that caught Saddam; he also led the intelligence and planning mission that resulted in the capture. Later on in the Iraq War, he helped plan the “surge” and also developed the policies that helped counter the threat of improvised explosive devices there.
Known as a “scholar-soldier,” Hickey holds degrees from the Virginia Military Institute, Georgetown University and Johns Hopkins University, and he also studied at the Army’s Russian Institute. He has been awarded the Distinguished Service Medal, the Silver Star, the Defense Superior Service Medal, the Legion of Merit with Oak Leaf Cluster, the Bronze Star for Valor, the Bronze Star with Oak Leaf Cluster, the Iraq Campaign Medal with Four Stars and the Valorous Unit Award.
“He’s one of the most outstanding officers that I’ve ever had the opportunity of dealing with,” Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.) told me. McCain said Hickey would make an outstanding Army secretary.
Three transition sources told me that Hickey has submitted vetting paperwork and is under serious consideration for the job.
His main competition seems to be Van Hipp, a former Army officer who has held the jobs of deputy assistant secretary of the Army for reserve forces and mobilization and principal deputy general counsel for the Navy. In the late 1980s, he was chairman of the South Carolina Republican Party. Hipp also runs a lobbying firm with links to several major defense contractors.
Trump is expected to meet with candidates for all three service secretary positions this week and next. The front-runners for Navy secretary include former congressman Randy Forbes, who met with Trump’s team Monday, and Congressman Duncan Hunter Jr. (R-Calif.).
For Air Force secretary, sources said Trump is considering Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-Okla.), who has also been mentioned as a potential administrator for NASA. He also met with Trump’s team on Monday. Hunter and Bridenstine were among the earliest and staunchest supporters of Trump in the House of Representatives.
The process for selecting service secretaries began before Marine Gen. James Mattis was selected as defense secretary, but he is now expected to have input in the decisions, transition sources said. Incoming national security adviser retired Lt. Gen. Michael T. Flynn is also heavily involved.