- The Washington Times - Monday, September 30, 2019

President Trump welcomed the new chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, Mark A. Milley, on Monday as he faces tough decisions on Iran and controversy in Ukraine, though first he publicly thanked the departing chairman for helping him make the decision to run for president in 2015.

Sharing the story for the first time, Mr. Trump said he struck up a conversation with Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr. at an awards dinner that year, before he announced his candidacy.

The general looked like he was out of “central casting” and noticed Mr. Trump’s interest in the military.

“I said, ‘Well, I just love our country,’” Mr. Trump recounted during a formal welcoming ceremony for Gen. Milley, the 20th chairman of the joint chiefs of staff.

“He was one of the first people I asked. I said, ‘What do you think, do you think I’d have a shot?’” Mr. Trump said of Gen. Dunford. “This was before it was public.”

Mr. Trump said Gen. Dunford helped him “form an opinion” and “gave me a lot of information” that fueled his push to bolster the military after winning the presidency.

“We had to have a modern, great military with the most magnificent and the finest machinery, planes, boats, ships, weapons of all kinds,” Mr. Trump said. “We’ve never had anything like you have today. When I took over, we were a very depleted military, and today we’re at a level that we have never even come close to.”

Gen. Dunford swore in Gen. Milley, a 61-year-old from Massachusetts with an Ivy League education, on a rainy Summerall Field at the Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall in Virginia.

“I’ve heard that if it rains on a big occasion, it brings luck. So, Mark, I think you’re going to be the luckiest general in history,” Mr. Trump told Gen. Milley.

The general is taking over amid a series of challenges for the Trump administration, from dealing with Iran’s actions in the Middle East to navigating support for Ukraine’s military in the face of an impeachment inquiry that centers on Mr. Trump’s July 25 call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

Gen. Milley is a four-star general in the U.S. Army who deployed to combat sites across the world during his distinguished military career. He has received the Distinguished Service Medal, four Bronze Stars and the Legion of Merit.

The general thanked his family for the sacrifices they have made and offered a nod to his Princeton hockey team, which had trouble winning any games.

On a more serious note, he warned potential enemies that the U.S. military is better prepared than ever.

“We stand ready to keep the peace or, if necessary, win the war,” he said.

The ceremony, which featured a 19-gun salute and plenty of pomp and circumstance, was attended by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper and more than a dozen military leaders.

Mr. Trump participated in the ceremony after tweeting a torrent of attacks on Democrats pursuing impeachment over his interactions with Ukraine. One late Sunday missive quoted Pastor Robert Jeffress as saying Mr. Trump’s removal office would spark a “civil war.”

Rep. Adam Kinzinger, Illinois Republican who has served in the military, scolded the president.

“I have visited nations ravaged by civil war,” he tweeted, tagging Mr. Trump. “I have never imagined such a quote to be repeated by a president. This is beyond repugnant.”

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