President Donald Trump said he’ll tap Army Chief of Staff Mark Milley as the next head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, replacing Marine General Joseph Dunford, with the date of the transition still to be determined.
“I’m pleased to announce my nomination of four-star General Mark Milley,” Trump said Saturday on Twitter. In a second tweet he thanked “both of these incredible men for their service to our country!”
Milley, who’s served in Afghanistan, Iraq and Somalia, would become the country’s top military officer and senior military adviser to the president if confirmed by the Senate. He’d be responsible for helping ensure Trump’s policies in global hot-spots from Syria to the South China Sea are carried out.
Trump’s pick won the approval of Senator Lindsey Graham, the South Carolina Republican who’s a member of the Armed Services Committee. Graham called Milley a “great choice.” release.
“I’ve known General Milley for years and met him on numerous occasions in Afghanistan and Iraq,” Graham said. “He’s a battle-tested commander and Pentagon reformer who will be a worthy successor to General Dunford.”
One issue high on Milley’s agenda will be the 17-year war in Afghanistan, now the nation’s longest armed conflict. The Massachusetts native and Princeton University graduate knows that battlefield well: he’s done three tours during Operation Enduring Freedom and served as the deputy commanding general for U.S. Forces-Afghanistan. He’s also served in Panama, Haiti and Bosnia-Herzegovina.
Milley would also be responsible for helping the military carry out the priorities in Trump’s National Defense Strategy, which calls for an emphasis on the potential for “great power” conflict with countries like Russia and China over a focus on counterterrorism.
Milley addressed the shift in priorities at an April hearing on Capitol Hill.
“Guerrillas, insurgents, terrorists are going to be around for a long time in various different forms,” he told the Senate Armed Services Committee on April 12. “We have to maintain the skill set. But, at the same time, we have to recapture our skills at combined arms maneuver warfare against near-peer competitors and great power competition.”
Trump previewed his plan to announce a change at the Joint Chiefs with a cryptic remark on Friday, after he announced plans to name a new attorney general and ambassador to the United Nations.
“I have another one for tomorrow that I’m going to be announcing at the Army-Navy game,” Trump said. “I can give you a little hint: It will have to do with the Joint Chiefs of Staff and succession.”
Milley, 60, would replace Dunford, who was first picked by President Barack Obama in 2015 and reappointed by Trump two years later. Dunford’s term is due to expire in 2019. Under a 2017 law, the term for the chairman of the Joint Chiefs will be increased to four years from two.
“It’s an unusual pick — Milley has extensive operational experience and excellent intellectual credentials, but not much” time working with the Navy, Marines and Air Force in joint operations, said Mark Cancian, a senior adviser for the International Security Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. “It’s certainly good news for the Army, which has struggled to make a place for itself in the new defense strategy.”
As a Princeton student in the late 1970s, Milley captained the university’s ice hockey team. Decades later, he returned to the ice to coach an Army team to a 5-3 victory over Navy. He graduated with a degree in political science in 1980 and later received a Master’s degree in international relations from Columbia University.
As Army Chief of Staff, Milley joined other senior military leaders in issuing what was interpreted as a subtle rebuke of Trump in August 2017, when the president blamed “both sides” for violence at rallies in Charlottesville, Virginia, when a white supremacist rammed his car into a crowd, killing one woman.
“The Army doesn’t tolerate racism, extremism, or hatred in our ranks,” Milley wrote on Twitter. “It’s against our Values and everything we’ve stood for since 1775.”
Trump made the announcement hours before he’s scheduled to fly to Philadelphia for the annual Army-Navy college football game. The president will be the tenth sitting president to attend the game, and will officiate the coin toss. Trump also was at the 2016 game as president-elect.