Wednesday, June 11, 2003

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld has picked a retired Special Forces general as his choice for the next Army chief of staff, defense officials said yesterday.

Mr. Rumsfeld is recommending that President Bush nominate retired Army Gen. Peter J. Schoomaker to replace the outgoing Army chief of staff, Gen. Eric Shinseki.

The selection was sent to Mr. Bush yesterday, and the president is expected to approve it and forward it to Congress for confirmation, said defense officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

The choice of Gen. Schoomaker is seen as part of Mr. Rumsfeld’s effort to reshape the service from a structure of large, heavily armored divisions into a more agile force modeled on Special Forces commandos, who played key roles in recent conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Mr. Rumsfeld hopes the smaller units also can move around the world quickly and easily.

The pick is viewed as a slap at the current roster of Army four-star and three-star generals vying for the service’s top post, because defense secretaries do not usually reach outside the ranks of current active-duty officers to pick a chief of staff.

Sen. John W. Warner, Virginia Republican and chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said he could not confirm Mr. Rumsfeld’s selection of Gen. Schoomaker.

But he said that Gen. Schoomaker’s was one of several names discussed in recent consultations with the defense secretary.

“General Schoomaker has had quite a distinguished military career,” Mr. Warner said in an interview.

Mr. Rumsfeld has often battled senior Army officials, including Gen. Shinseki, during the past two years about the pace of his “transformation” plans for the Army.

Army Secretary Thomas White, who also clashed with Mr. Rumsfeld, resigned in April under pressure. The White House has nominated Air Force Secretary James Roche, who is considered a Rumsfeld loyalist, for the Army post.

Gen. Shinseki retires from the service today, after 38 years on active duty, including combat duty in Vietnam and peacekeeping in the Balkans.

Mr. Rumsfeld has had close ties to Gen. Schoomaker, unlike Gen. Shinseki. In the fall of 2001, the defense secretary called on Gen. Schoomaker for advice during the start of military operations against the Taliban and al Qaeda terrorists in Afghanistan.

Special Forces commandos, in some cases riding on horseback to direct opposition Afghan guerrillas, played a major role in the ground portion of the conflict. The operation succeeded in ousting the ruling Taliban and disrupting the al Qaeda terrorist network.

A former Pentagon official said the selection of Gen. Schoomaker reflects Mr. Rumsfeld’s interest in promoting Special Forces commandos over officers from the armor, infantry and artillery forces.

“Essentially, this is a pick that Rumsfeld has made in order to change the Army,” the former official said. “Rumsfeld has been talking to Schoomaker on and off since October 2001.”

Retired Army Gen. George Joulwan, a former NATO commander, said the choice of Gen. Schoomaker signals the direction of the Army under Mr. Rumsfeld.

“This may be a signal of how he wants to structure the Army” by focusing on mobility, flexibility and agility, Gen. Joulwan told the Associated Press.

Gen. Schoomaker, 57, began his Army career in 1969 as an infantry officer and switched to Special Forces in 1978. He took command that year of the Army’s 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment — the formal name for the secretive Delta Force commando unit, which specializes in counterterrorism and other covert operations.

He was part of the Delta Force unit that participated in the failed April 1980 attempt to rescue U.S. hostages in Iran.

Gen. Schoomaker, who is a native of Michigan, graduated from the University of Wyoming and completed the U.S. Marine Corps Amphibious Warfare School in 1976.

He ended his career in 2000, after three years as commander in chief of the U.S. Special Operations Command.

Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. John Keane will take over as acting chief of staff until a successor to Gen. Shinseki is confirmed.

In addition to the Army post, Mr. Rumsfeld is looking for a successor to Gen. Tommy Franks, the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq and other parts of the Middle East and Central Asia.

The leading candidate to replace Gen. Franks at the head of the U.S. Central Command is Army Lt. Gen. John Abizaid, an Arabic-speaking deputy commander.

Only a handful of retired generals have been recalled from retirement for high-level active duty.

They include Gen. Maxwell Taylor, who was brought out of retirement by President Kennedy to be the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Gens. Douglas MacArthur and George C. Marshall also were recalled to active duty from retirement.

Gen. Shinseki ran afoul of Mr. Rumsfeld last year after he publicly opposed the secretary’s decision to cancel the Army’s $11 billion Crusader artillery program.

The general also challenged civilian Pentagon officials on the issue of Iraq, saying in congressional testimony that the United States would need several hundred thousand troops to stabilize and occupy Iraq after a war.

Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz disputed that estimate, arguing that a much smaller number of troops would be needed.

Loren Thompson, a military analyst with the private Lexington Institute, said the choice of Gen. Schoomaker is part of a massive Army reorganization drive by Mr. Rumsfeld.

“The Rumsfeld plan for the Army envisions a wholesale change in culture, a reorganization of basic combat units and a rewrite of strategy. Change doesn’t get more fundamental than that,” Mr. Thompson told Reuters news agency.

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