WASHINGTON (AP) - President Barack Obama moved Monday to seal an overhaul of his national security team, selecting Army Gen. Martin
Dempsey as the next Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman amid protracted
battle in Afghanistan, U.S. involvement in the NATO-led effort
against Libya's Moammar Gadhafi and a winding down of the war in
Obama announced a new lineup of his top military leadership
group in the Rose Garden of the White House just before venturing
across the Potomac to pay tribute to the nation's war dead at
Arlington National Cemetery. The Memorial Day announcements had
been expected, although there was no immediate indication what the
military leadership moves might imply for possible changes in
Already, the president had turned, in late April, to CIA Director Leon Panetta to succeed Robert Gates and secretary of defense and chose to move Army Gen. David Petraeus from his command of the Afghanistan war effort to the United States to replace Panetta at the CIA.
Marine Gen. James Cartwright had long been rumored to be Obama's
favorite, and the president singled him out for praise at the
announcement. But he turned instead to Dempsey, an accomplished
veteran of the Iraq war, to succeed Adm. Mike Mullen as his top
military adviser, calling the Army officer "one of our nation's
most respected and combat-tested generals."
The president also announced he has chosen Navy Adm. James
Winnefeld to succeed Cartwright as vice chairman of the Joint
Chiefs and Army Gen. Ray Odierno as his candidate to replace
Dempsey as Army chief of staff.
The nominees have to be approved by the Senate, and Obama voiced
hope that could happen in a timely fashion.
At the White House, Obama called America's servicemen and women
"the best our nation has to offer, and they deserve nothing but
the best in return, and that includes leaders."
Later on, Obama placed a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns at
the venerable Arlington burial grounds. And in a speech at the
Arlington amphitheater in front of a flag-draped wall, the
president, who had met earlier in the day with families of troops
killed in war, said: "To those of you mourn the loss of a loved
one today, my heart goes out to you."
"We remember that the blessings that we enjoy as Americans came
at a dear cost," he said. "Our nation owes a debt to its fallen
heroes that we cannot ever fully repay. But we can honor their
sacrifice, and we must." After his remarks, Obama and his wife,
Michelle, visited a section of the cemetery that is the final
resting place for many veterans of the wars in Iraq and
Preceding Obama at the amphitheater, Gates said the country
"must never forget" its men and women in the military.
"As I come to the end of my time in this post," Gates said, "
... I will keep these brave patriots and their families in my heart
and in my prayers."
Dempsey, who began a four-year term as Army chief of staff on
April 11, will have to be confirmed by the Senate, as will
Winnefeld and Odierno.
Gates said that Dempsey, Winnefeld and Odierno are excellent
"They possess the right mix of intellectual heft, moral courage
and strategic vision to provide sound and candid advice to the
president and his national security team," Gates said. "Above
all, they are proven leaders of men and women in combat operations
over the past decade and are uniquely qualified to guide and shape
our military institutions through the challenging times ahead.
Mullen said the trio will give "not only their best military advice, but also the great benefit of their decades of military experience and their command in combat operations." He called Odierno a "combat-proven officer who made a real difference in Iraq."
Appearing in a nationally broadcast interview Monday morning,
Mullen was asked whether a change of guard at the Joint Chiefs
meant a change of strategy in Afghanistan.
"We obviously have added these forces ... and we've really seen
progress on the security side," he replied. "We will sustain
losses as we have in the last few days. ... That said, I am
confident that by the end of the year, we'll be in a much, much
He said he hopes the public understands "the depth of
sacrifice" made by servicemen and women.
Mullen appeared on ABC's "Good Morning America," CBS's "The
Early Show" and NBC's "Today" show.