Obama taps Dempsey as Joint Chiefs chair

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In the latest shake-up of his national security team, President Obama on Monday named ArmyGen. Martin E. Dempsey as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, less than two months after elevating him to the Army’s top post.

Martin Dempsey is one of our most respected and combat-tested generals,” Mr. Obama said in a Memorial Day announcement in the White House Rose Garden. “I expect him to push all our forces to continue adapting and innovating to be ready for the missions of today and tomorrow.”

The president also named Adm. James A. Winnefeld, head of the U.S. Northern Command, as vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs, and Gen. Raymond T. Odierno as Army chief of staff.

The appointments all require Senate confirmation.

Mr. Obama made the moves at a pivotal time for the Pentagon, which is involved in a drawdown of operations in Iraq, facing a summer of renewed fighting in Afghanistan and trying to protect its flank against deep budget cuts in an era of deficit reduction.

“It’s essential that this transition be seamless and that we stay focused on the urgent national security challenges before us,” said Mr. Obama, flanked by outgoing Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and his three nominees.

Gen. Dempsey, 59, was sworn in as Army chief of staff on April 11. Mr. Obama said his stint as chief “may go down as one of the shortest in Army history,” but he added that “it’s your lifetime of accomplishment that brings us here today.”

Gen. Dempsey emerged as the leading candidate in the past two weeks as the prospects faded for Marine Gen. James E. Cartwright, the current vice chairman.

The four-star Gen. Cartwright worked with the president on the top-secret operation to kill Osama bin Laden. Mr. Obama reportedly was leaning toward choosing him to head the Joint Chiefs, but Gen. Cartwright’s promotion was undone by a series of revelations.

An inspector general investigated him on claims of impropriety involving a female subordinate two years ago. Although he was cleared, the revelation of the probe this year cast a cloud over him. Military sources have told The Washington Times that his wife, from whom he is separated, also has made damaging accusations to female senators about his conduct around women.

In addition, The Times and other news outlets have reported that Gen. Cartwright was on the losing end of a battle among Mr. Obama’s top national security advisers on whether to send more or fewer troops to Afghanistan.

Mr. Obama said he has “benefited enormously” from the counsel of Gen. Cartwright, calling him by his nickname, “Hoss.” His term on the Joint Chiefs ends this summer.

“Hoss is that rare combination of technical expert — from cyber to missile defense - and strategic thinker, whether it was updating our nuclear posture or preparing our military for 21st-century missions,” the president said. “I’ll always be personally grateful to Hoss for his friendship and partnership.”

Gen. Dempsey most recently headed the Army’s Training and Doctrine Command. He served two combat tours in Iraq, including command of the 1st Armored Division in 2003 and 2004. He also served as acting commander of U.S. Central Command.

“Having trained Iraqi forces, he knows that nations must also take responsibility for their own security,” Mr. Obama said. “Having served as acting commander of Central Command, he understands that in Iraq and Afghanistan, security gains and political progress must go hand in hand.”

The new Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman will replace Adm. Mike Mullen, who will retire Oct. 1.

Mr. Obama has reshuffled his national security team this year. Last month, the president selected CIA Director Leon E. Panetta to replace Mr. Gates, who is set to retire at the end of June. Mr. Obama also chose Gen. David H. Petraeus, who is wrapping up his command of forces in Afghanistan, to replace Mr. Panetta at the CIA.

Gen. Dempsey and Gen. Petraeus were classmates at West Point and graduated in 1974.

Adm. Winnefeld’s service includes command of the USS Enterprise during combat operations in Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, and command of the U.S. 6th Fleet. He also has aided in the U.S. response to the nuclear crisis in Japan.

“Sandy knows that we have to be prepared for the full range of challenges,” the president said, also using his military man’s nickname, short for his middle name “Alexander.”

Mr. Obama praised Gen. Odierno as “one of the Army’s most accomplished soldiers.” In Iraq, he commanded the troops who captured Saddam Hussein.

“After years on the front lines, Ray understands what the Army must do to prevail in today’s wars, to prepare for the future and to preserve the readiness of the soldiers and the families,” the president said.

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