Lt. Gen. Walter Boomer, who commanded the Marines in the Persian Gulf War, will return to Camp Pendleton on Monday amid reports he is a candidate to become the next commandant of the Marine Corps.
One of the first things the 52-year-old three-star general will do on base is award medals to some of the troops he led across the desert to Kuwait City during the lightning land assault against Iraq.
Boomer had just reported for duty at Camp Pendleton last August, where he was assigned to command both the base and the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, when he was deployed to the Gulf as part of the massive military buildup.
During the war, Boomer oversaw a Marine force of about 80,000 troops, including about 30,000 troops and reservists from Camp Pendleton, and a division from Camp Lejeune in North Carolina.
Nearly all the Camp Pendleton-based Marines have returned from the war zone, and Boomer will be among the last as he arrives with a small contingent of staff members aboard a military transport plane Monday.
Meanwhile, the military community is buzzing with speculation that Boomer may be named the next commandant as Gen. Alfred Gray prepares to leave the four-year post June 30 as the Marine Corps' top officer.
A well-placed Washington source who asked not to be identified told The Times on Friday that Boomer's name is on the list of candidates for the position.
"He \o7 is \f7 a war hero," said the source.
That confirms reports circulating among the upper echelons of the Corps that Boomer's performance leading the Marines may put him in line to replace Gray, even though Boomer is comparatively young and received his third star less than a year ago.
Selecting a commandant is a ritualized process in which the departing commandant prepares a list of candidates and submits it to the secretary of the Navy and the secretary of defense, either of whom may modify the list.
The confidential list is then given to the President, who picks the new commandant, subject to confirmation by the Senate.
Maj. Rick DeChaineau, a spokesman for Marine Corps Headquarters in Washington, said Friday "the list has gone up" for high-level review, and a new commandant could be announced as early as next week.
For observers who think Boomer's age and recent promotion may count against him, DeChaineau said there's historical precedent for a long-shot candidate to reach the top.
"Gen. Gray was sort of a dark horse when he became commandant," DeChaineau said.
To the elite corps of fewer than 200,000 men and women, the nation's smallest branch of the service, the selection of a new commandant is a rarefied and exciting event.
Retired Maj. Gen. Marc Moore of Escondido, who remains active in Marine Corps affairs, said Friday that "it's an interesting horse race" among a tiny field of officers who have reached the pinnacle.
Moore, who knows Boomer, described him as "a sleeper dark-horse candidate" who still "would have a definite shot" at becoming commandant.
He said Boomer could benefit because of President Bush's knowledge of him, and if there's a push to choose a younger-generation commandant.
According to Moore, Vietnam veteran Boomer is a "quiet, pensive and very thoughtful guy" whose field performance and combat decorations give him excellent credentials.
However, Moore said, Boomer has no Washington "expertise," a factor that might favor one of the other candidates, who include Lt. Gen. Carl Mundy Jr., commander of Fleet Marine Force Atlantic.
If Boomer isn't picked for commandant, speculation holds he could still be tabbed to replace Army Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf as field commander of U.S. Central Command, a post that is scheduled to rotate to a Marine general.
During Boomer's absence, a reserve brigadier general, Michael Neil, was called to active duty to become acting commander of Camp Pendleton.
A base spokesman, Sgt. Rene Reyna, said Friday it hasn't been decided yet when Neil will leave active duty to resume his San Diego law practice.