Originally created 06/20/03

Three impressive choices for military leadership



LAST WEEK Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld made some extremely important decisions about who would lead the military in the future. Who are these people and what will they bring to the table? I will tell a brief story about each person.

A few months ago I was speaking at Fort Benning to a few hundred officers and non-commissioned officers. As I was discussing Army leadership, I mentioned the fact that I was especially impressed by John Abiziad. A roar of approval came from the audience.

This summer Mr. Abiziad, who currently is deputy commander of Central Command, will be promoted from lieutenant general to general to replace Gen. Tommy Franks as the commander of Central Command. Lt. Gen. Abiziad, who has a great deal of experience in the Middle East and speaks Arabic, is a West Point graduate, class of 1973.

HIS TROOPS love him, which will be very helpful since he will have to deal with many morale problems as his troops wrestle for years with tough peacekeeping duties in Afghanistan and Iraq (and perhaps other locations in the Middle East).

Two years ago I had the privilege of attending a magnificent ceremony at Fort Bragg, N.C., where the Studies and Observation Group (SOG) from the Vietnam War was awarded the highest honor a military unit can receive, the Presidential Unit Citation.

These men were the Special Forces troops who, in small teams, went deep behind enemy lines to obtain intelligence and to disrupt enemy supplies which were moving from North Vietnam into South Vietnam through Laos and Cambodia. SOG, which was so terribly maligned by CNN in its bogus nerve gas special, was at long last receiving the recognition it had so richly deserved.

LT. GEN. BRYAN Brown officiated at this dignified and uplifting ceremony which honored the unit with the highest proportion of casualties and Medal of Honor recipients of any unit in the Vietnam War. Gen. Brown, whose background in special operations is also very deep, has been named to replace Air Force Gen. Charlie Holland as commander of the Special Operations Command. His long experience with special forces should serve him well in his new position.

Four years ago I visited MacDill Air Force and spent a day at the headquarters of Special Operations Command. I was very impressed both with the strategic planning being done and with the commander at the time, Gen. Peter Schoomaker, who was not only popular with his troops, but also had a wonderful grasp of the opportunities that special operations forces would have in the medium and long-term future.

GEN. SCHOOMAKER, whose brother is Brig. Gen. Eric Schoomaker and is the commander of the Eisenhower Medical Center at Fort Gordon, retired three years ago. Peter Schoomaker was just chosen by Rumsfeld to be the new Army chief of staff. It is extremely unusual for someone who is already retired to be recalled to active duty to serve in a very senior position in the military.

Gen. Schoomaker (pronounced "skoo'maker") will become the very first chief of staff of any of the military services to have a deep background in special operations, but he also has a broad operational background as an armor officer.

A football player at the University of Wyoming, an original member (and later, commander) of the elite Delta Force and commander of the best multi-service special operations unit in the world (the Joint Special Operations Command), Gen. Schoomaker will bring a commanding physical, intellectual and operational presence to the Pentagon.

FOR THOSE WHO may be interested in America's great challenges ahead, in its top national security leadership team, and how American grand strategy is likely to evolve in the years ahead, may I suggest the following books:

Bush at War, Empire, Of Paradise and Power, What Went Wrong, and The Future of the Army Profession. For those especially interested in special operations, I recommend, Shadow Warriors and No Room for Error.

(Editor's note: The writer is a retired major general in the United States Air Force and the author of Assignment Pentagon Rules and Tools for Leaders, The Air Force Plans for Peace and A Hero Among Heroes: Jimmie Dyess and the 4th Marine Division. He and his wife, Connor, live in Augusta.),