Military plays rare game of musical chairs

Friday - 5/27/2011, 3:47pm EDT

Rudy DeLeon, former deputy defense secretary

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Ruben Gomez
Federal News Radio

The defense community is getting new leadership as a busy U.S. military fights in Afghanistan and Iraq while also supporting the NATO-led effort against Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi.

President Barack Obama announced Monday his intention to nominate Army Gen. Martin Dempsey as the next Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman. Dempsey would replace Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, who's term ends Sept. 30.

He also selected Navy Adm. James Winnefeld to be the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs and Gen. Ray Odierno to be Army chief of staff, Dempsey's current job.

"The entire military chain of command is about to change," former Deputy Secretary of Defense Rudy DeLeon told Federal News Radio.

In April, the president tapped CIA Director Leon Panetta to succeed Robert Gates as secretary of defense. He also nominated Gen. David Petraeus, who has been leading the Afghanistan war effort for the U.S., to replace Panetta at the CIA.

"I'm not sure we've ever seen that much change in the senior military leadership in such a brief period," DeLeon said. Senior military nominations are usually "in a counter-cycle, so that they're not all changing at the same time."

The Dempsey surprise

The decision to nominate Dempsey as Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman came as a surprise to many because Marine Gen. James Cartwright, the current Joint Chiefs vice chairman, had long been rumored to be Mr. Obama's favorite.

"Marty Dempsey's name had been in the mix for a while," DeLeon said, but when he became the Army chief of staff, "most folks, I think, thought he was out of contention."

Dempsey became Army chief of staff on April 11.

(This interview with Rudy DeLeon was conducted before Monday's announcement by President Obama.)