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Rumsfeld Taps Retired General for Army Chief

June 11, 2003|John Hendren | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON -- Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld has offered the Army's top uniformed position to a retired four-star general, Pentagon officials said Tuesday, a move that bypasses top-ranking officers as he seeks to carry out a major overhaul of the service.

Rumsfeld selected Gen. Peter Jan Schoomaker, who retired in 2000, to become Army chief of staff, officials said, though the nomination has not been announced officially. Schoomaker, 57, would have to be confirmed by the Senate.

Rumsfeld's move, coming little more than a month after he fired the Army's civilian secretary and replaced him with current Air Force Secretary James Roche, was seen as positioning the Pentagon chief to speed up changes aimed at making the Army faster and lighter.

While Schoomaker's expected nomination suggests Rumsfeld found no satisfactory candidate in active service, it does not mean he didn't try. Pentagon insiders say he first offered the job to Gen. John Keane, deputy to retiring Army Chief of Staff Erik Shinseki; then to Gen. Tommy Franks, commander of Central Command, who opted instead to retire; and Gen. John Abizaid, who preferred to succeed Franks.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Friday June 13, 2003 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 0 inches; 26 words Type of Material: Correction
Army leadership -- A front-page story Wednesday about Pentagon personnel plans misspelled the first name of retiring Army Chief of Staff Eric K. Shinseki as Erik.

In the end, Rumsfeld chose a special operations commander who has been credited with helping Franks rework the attack plan for Afghanistan -- someone who has led the sort of force Rumsfeld sees as the vanguard of the 21st century U.S. fighting force.

A former commander of the joint U.S. Special Operations Command, Schoomaker told National Defense magazine in February 2001 that the future would hold fewer "wars" and more "conflicts," making special operations more important than ever.

By the end of the year, Army Special Forces and other elite fighters were leading a war in Afghanistan. Schoomaker has been credited with influencing Franks' plan for that war after Rumsfeld rejected an initial draft and asked for greater creativity.

"Humans are more important than hardware, and quality is better than quantity," Schoomaker told the magazine.

"Special operation forces cannot be mass-produced and competent special operation forces cannot be created after crises occur," he added.

The defense chief's signal "is obvious: He's not satisfied with the way that the Army has been conducting itself since he arrived," said Loren Thompson, a military analyst at the Lexington Institute, an Arlington, Va., public policy group.

"This is the first time in the history of any military service that the leadership has been replaced with a secretary from another service and a military officer from outside the institution's mainstream."

The announcement of Schoomaker's appointment is expected this week as part of a series of appointments aimed at reshaping the Pentagon. Rumsfeld has offered the top job at U.S. Central Command to Abizaid, an Arabic-speaker who serves as a deputy to Franks.

Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Richard B. Myers and his deputy, Gen. Peter Pace, top Rumsfeld picks, were asked to remain in their existing positions, officials said.

Rumsfeld and Army brass have clashed repeatedly since he took office for the second time in 2001. He declined to reappoint Shinseki, although Shinseki had been trying to transform the Army since a year before Rumsfeld took office

Rumsfeld killed the Army's treasured Crusader mobile artillery program and was reportedly irked by the service's efforts to revive it through friends on Capitol Hill.

When Shinseki said it would take about 200,000 troops to keep the peace in Iraq in the aftermath of a military victory, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz called the estimate "wildly inaccurate." There are now 165,000 American and more than 40,000 British and other coalition troops in Iraq.

The strain has occurred largely over Rumsfeld's military transformation plan and his treatment of Army leaders. That plan, which envisions a smaller and faster force, threatens the Army's traditional reliance on large numbers of troops. The plan's reliance on air power to protect ground soldiers goes against the grain of a service that prefers to protect itself.

Rumsfeld recently described his transformation plan at a town hall meeting.

"We have a long way to go for this defense establishment of ours to get itself fixed so that it can deal with the kinds of problems we're facing in the 21st century. We do need to be quicker on our feet," Rumsfeld said. "We need to be able to do things with somewhat smaller footprints."

The appointment of Roche, too, was unexpected because he now oversees another branch of the military and has no Army background. Pentagon insiders said Rumsfeld views the Army as so hidebound that he is willing to incur the wrath of top Army brass by naming an outsider to oversee a revamping of it.

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