William M. Arkin on National and Homeland Security
The Secret Team Reorganizes, Again
When President Bush visits Ft. Bragg and Pope air force base in North Carolina for the 4th of July -- that's the scuttlebutt -- he'll likely barbeque and hang with special operations personnel and their families, singing his usual refrain that the war against terrorism is "long war", necessary to preserve American independence, secure liberty, and, well, you get the idea.
Cue cards in hand, the president will thank the commanders and dignitaries.
Given how vital the war on terror is, according to the administration, it would be nice if Bush -- or the American people for that matter -- recognized the generals commanding that war.
There are stand-outs, and I'm exaggerating to make a point. But war or not, the military remains addicted to reassignments and rotations.
Okay, it's supposed to be a long war, and there are rungs up the leadership ladder, but even the secret team of special operations leadership moves from assignment to assignment with ridiculous frequency. One wonders how the constant reorganization creates continuity and real experience.
I wrote in February about the post-9/11 enlargement of special operations leadership, observing that the number of general officer commands and duties had almost doubled, "making a once segregated specialty in the U.S. military an increasingly dominant force."
To some degree, reshuffling leadership is an annual summer event for American military officers. Tours are timed for moves during the summer months; reassignments accommodate family needs and school schedules.
What might be surprising to some, though, is that at the higher ranks, and even in special operations, many of those reassignments occur annually. One wonders, particularly in a desk job, what one can actually accomplish in a year.
Case in point is Major Gen. Jeffrey J. Schloesser, a special operations general currently assigned as Deputy Director for Strategic Operational Planning at the newly established National Counterterrorism Center. A month after 9/11, Schloesser started and became the first chief of the "war on terrorism Strategic Planning Cell" at the Joint Staff, remaining there for 18 months. He arrived at NCTC last July.
The Pentagon has announced that Schloesser is leaving NCTC to command the 101st Airborne Division after not even a year at the center. Commanding a division is the dream of every Army officer, but yet, what about that war against terrorism?
Take also Rear Adm. Robert S. Harward, another well regarded special operations "warfighter." Since 2004, Harward has had four consecutive one year assignments, on the National Security Council staff -- good reason I guess to get out of that assignment as soon as humanly possible -- has been the deputy commander of naval special operations, has also been assigned to NCTC and is now Deputy Commander for Operations at Joint Special Operations Command at Fort Bragg.
Harward's co-deputy commander is Air Force Brig. Gen. Eric E. Fiel. He's also new, having come to JSOC from being director of operations at Air Force Special Operations Command in Florida.
Harward replaces Rear. Adm. William H. McRaven, who lasted three years at JSOC and is credited with overseeing the "black" Task Force 145/626 and Task Force Omaha special operators in the field in Afghanistan and Iraq. McRaven just moved to Stuttgart, Germany, where he will direct special operations missions in Europe, Africa and Eurasia.
He replaces Army Maj. Gen. Thomas R. Csrnko, who is going to Fort Bragg to take over as commanding general of Army Special Forces Command. Csrnko will replace Brig. Gen. John Mulholland, who took the Special Forces job in April 2005. Rumor had it that Mulholland was to become the head of special operations for U.S. Central Command, covering the Middle East and Horn of Africa, replacing Maj. Gen. Francis H. Kearney III.
But Kearney actually seems to be staying in his job, having as well been rumored to be going to JSOC to be number two before Harward stole his slot.
Replacing Brig. Gen. Fiel at Air Force special operations command is Brig. Gen. (Select) Michael W. Callan. Callan was assistant deputy director for special operations at the Joint Staff for some excruciatingly short period of time. That is, until he got his first star (Callan has not been confirmed yet).
Of course, as I said there are exceptions: Vice Adm. Albert M. Calland III, who came from his job as deputy director of the Central Intelligence Agency to replace Schloesser at NCTC, had been at Langley since March 2004. Calland, also highly regarded, left his CIA assignment because practice requires that the director and deputy director not both be military officers.
And then there's probably the longest-serving officer in one assignment in bureaucratic history: Lt. Gen. William G. (“Jerry”) Boykin. He has deputy undersecretary of defense for intelligence and warfighting support since July 23, 2003. Maybe Boykin is indispensable, maybe he is so good at his job that Rumsfeld can't stand to let him go.
More likely, Rumsfeld can't stand the battle that would ensue if he nominated the famous Boykin, known for his religious devotion (he was once a vociferous speaker on the Christian circuit) for another job or another star.
In other words, it's perfectly okay to keep Boykin in his job for three years -- a military eternity -- to avoid political trouble and oversight. When it comes to actually fighting the war -- if any of these generals and admirals can actually be labeled fighting -- on the other hand, year long or shorter assignments seem perfectly routine.