View Full Version : The Next Marine Corps Commandant

08-01-02, 10:59 PM
Inside the Pentagon August 1, 2002

Hagee Appears To Lead Pack To Become Next Marine Corps Commandant

Lt. Gen. Michael Hagee is widely believed to be in the best position among his contemporaries to become the Marine Corps' 33rd commandant when Gen. James Jones leaves the post later this year to serve as NATO's top commander, defense officials and observers tell Inside the Pentagon.

Although he is well known within his service, Hagee has yet to emerge as a public persona and thus may appear to some as a "dark horse" candidate.

According to one defense expert, Hagee's name is the only one sent thus far to the White House for review. But the Vietnam veteran is among several Marine Corps three-star generals interviewed by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld over the past few months, sources said. Others reportedly include Lt. Gen. Emil "Buck" Bedard, the deputy commandant for plans, polices
and operations; Lt. Gen. Wallace "Chip" Gregson, commanding general of the III Marine Expeditionary Force in Okinawa; and Lt. Gen. Edward Hanlon, commanding general of the Marine Corps Combat Development Command.

A more familiar face to the public -- Gen. Peter Pace, the vice
chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff -- is also considered to be in the running.m But many believe Rumsfeld, who has developed a constructive relationship with Pace over his past nine months at the JCS, prefers to keep him close at hand in his current position.

The only other Marine Corps four-star, Gen. Carlton Fulford, deputy commander of U.S. European Command, was also considered a candidate but is instead expected to retire.

Jones will probably leave the Pentagon for his assignment in Belgium "sometime after Christmas," said one Marine Corps source.

Hagee, a native of Fredericksburg, TX, is commanding general of the I Marine Expeditionary Force at Camp Pendleton, CA. Described as smart and professional, he has served in a variety of command assignments and "inside-the-Beltway" positions, a blend of experience experts say could serve him well as commandant.

An engineering major at the U.S. Naval Academy class of 1968, Hagee holds master's degrees in electrical engineering and national security studies. Associates say he tends to be analytic and pragmatic in approach to this work.

Like Pace, Hagee served in Somalia during the tumultuous U.S.
deployment in 1993, when he was liaison officer to the U.S. special envoy.

For many military officers, the experience in Somalia has become
emblematic of the kind of warfare the United States may face increasingly as the lone superpower following the Cold War. The engagement there began under Bush I as humanitarian relief, but, during the Clinton administration, evolved into a controversial nation-building effort that ended shortly after two
Army Black Hawk helicopters were shot down.

Bedard -- who is also described as very sharp intellectually, but
"gruff" in demeanor -- also served in Somalia, following earlier combat tours in Vietnam and Iraq. He commanded the 7th Marine Regiment, which deployed to Somalia in December 1992, then was assigned as J-3 operations officer for Joint Task Force Somalia in October 1993.

Rumsfeld reportedly likes Bedard, but is thought instead to favor him to become a top combatant commander -- a four-star position Bedard is said to prefer as well. One retired officer describes him as a "ready-aim-fire guy," not well suited to the nuances of Washington politicking. His current tour at the pentagon is also his first.

Under one scenario circulating in the Pentagon, Bedard may be assigned to serve for a short time under Jones as chief of staff for the new supreme allied commander Europe. Later, he may be tapped to become commander of U.S. Central Command, with responsibility over the Middle East region -- or so this scenario goes.

Gregson is viewed as perhaps Hagee's toughest competition to become commandant. Only recently promoted to three stars, Gregson was running a major exercise called "Cobra Gold" with the Thai military this past spring when others interviewed with Rumsfeld. But sources say he has been seriously considered for the job, and is thought to have met with the defense secretary to discuss it.

Still, Gregson may be too junior at this point to be picked as
commandant, defense insiders and observers say. And, until recently, he had spent so much time inside the Pentagon -- without rotation to command tours -- that some feared he was "dead meat," in the words of one source. His current post
in command of III MEF could reverse that perception in coming years.

Even if Gregson does not win the top job in this go-round, he is
widely regarded as a future contender. In fact, he appears to be a
sentimental favorite to become commandant throughout the Marine Corps and beyond. Admirers praise his combat experience, intellect and political savvy. He, too, served in Vietnam and Somalia, and is known for his views on the
transformation in threats the United States is likely to face in
coming years.

If Gregson is selected as commandant, one retired officer speculates that Hagee may become U.S. Central Command chief. But if Gregson won the commandant's job over his current competitors, it could be interpreted as a signal to more senior generals who were overlooked that they "might as well put in their papers" for retirement, said one defense expert. While
Rumsfeld reportedly has considered offering such a gesture in the Army, he does not appear displeased with the Marine Corps talent pool.

Among defense officials and observers, the crop of candidates for top Marine appears rather impressive. "The Marine Corps will be much better off with any of these three," said one retired service officer, referring to Hagee, Bedard and Gregson. "It's a very strong field, and it's great to see . . . that kind of talent being considered for commandant."

Both Hagee and Gregson have performed tours at the CIA, serving as executive assistant to the director of central intelligence. That experience gave both a high regard for the value of human intelligence and counterintelligence,
which are widely seen to be key in the war on terrorism, said this
retired officer.

"I think all of them have an appreciation for the changing nature of warfare and conflict, the immense challenges that face us today," the source said.

-- Elaine M. Grossman