- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 11, 2003


“And so I say one last time, my name is Shinseki, and I am a soldier — proud of it.”

With those words, Gen. Eric K. Shinseki yesterday bade farewell to an Army career that spanned five decades, from the jungles of Vietnam, where combat cost him part of a foot, to the halls of the Pentagon, where he fought bureaucratic wars until his final hours as chief of staff.

The White House has not nominated a successor to Gen. Shinseki, but officials let it be known the day before his retirement ceremony that it would be Peter Schoomaker, who retired from the Army in 2000. Never before has an Army chief of staff been chosen from the ranks of the retired.

In his parting remarks at Fort Myer’s Summerall Field, Gen. Shinseki made no mention of his boss, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, with whom he had a sometimes-tense relationship. Mr. Rumsfeld, who was traveling in Europe, did not send a high-level representative from his office.

Gen. Shinseki alluded to the tensions, which some have attributed to a belief by Mr. Rumsfeld that Army leaders resisted a basic principle of democracy: that they must answer to civilian authority.

“We understand that leadership is not an exclusive function of the uniformed services,” Mr. Shinseki said to an audience that included members of Congress and military officers from countries across the globe. “So when some suggest that we in the Army don’t understand the importance of civilian control of the military, well, that’s just not helpful — and it isn’t true.”

Gen. Shinseki, a native of Hawaii, is the only officer of Japanese descent to rise to the Army’s top post. His career almost came to a tragic early end. On his second tour of duty in Vietnam, as a cavalry-troop commander in 1970, he was wounded in action and lost part of a foot.

He was so severely hurt that doctors tried to get him to leave the service, according to Les Brownlee, the acting Army secretary who officiated at Gen. Shinseki’s retirement ceremony.

“His love of soldiers — soldiers who had carried him out of combat on their backs, twice — and his love of our Army was so deep that he persevered,” Mr. Brownlee said, with Gen. Shinseki in dress uniform at his side, looking across Fort Myer’s green parade field toward Arlington National Cemetery.

Gen. Shinseki spent 11 months recuperating in a hospital in Hawaii, and it would be another decade before he returned to the field. In the intervening years he earned a master’s degree in English at Duke University, taught English for two years at the U.S. Military Academy, attended the Army Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., and was a staff officer in the Pentagon.

He went on to hold a variety of commands with Army units in Germany during the 1980s. In 1994 he became commanding general of the 1st Cavalry Division at Fort Hood, Texas. In 1997 he took command of U.S. Army Europe and headed the NATO peacekeeping force in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

When he became Army chief of staff on June 22, 1999, Gen. Shinseki identified a major problem — heavy forces that were too heavy and immobile, and light forces that were too light and vulnerable. He spent the next four years pushing an Army “transformation” — coining a term that became the watchword of the Bush administration’s Pentagon once Mr. Rumsfeld took office in 2001.

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