Inside The Navy
March 13, 2006

Marine Corps Commandant May Retire Early, DoD Seeks Successor

Gen. Michael Hagee, who is challenging Pentagon plans to cut his service's end strength by 5,000 Marines, may step down as Marine Corps commandant months before his four-year term expires next January.

By law, Hagee will no longer be commandant Jan. 13, 2007. But in a brief interview last week with Inside the Navy, Hagee signaled the change could come sooner. He said he would step down as commandant "sometime between now and the 13th of January."

Service and defense industry sources tracking the issue said Hagee is likely to step down by this summer or early fall.

Hagee said the exact timing is up to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who must pick the new commandant in consultation with the president. "That will be up to the secretary of defense as he looks as to who the individual will be who relieves me, and then of course he'll talk to the president about that," Hagee told ITN March 8.

Rumsfeld is interviewing candidates for Hagee's job and other senior
positions, according to military and industry sources. But the Pentagon is not discussing that process publicly.

"When we have something to announce, we will," said Defense Department spokesman Bryan Whitman.

Hagee is not known for publicly fighting with Pentagon leaders, but at a recent breakfast with reporters he voiced his disagreement with the Quadrennial Defense Review's recommendation to slash Marine Corps end strength from 180,000 to 175,000 by fiscal year 2011. Hagee reiterated his views when senators questioned him at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing March 9.

When Hagee took the reins of the Marine Corps from then-Commandant Gen. James Jones in January 2003, the standard practice of changing commandants during the summer was ignored. This coincided with the unprecedented decision to put the outgoing commandant in charge of U.S. European Command.

In the interview, Hagee acknowledged hearing talk of restoring a summer turnover schedule, but he added there is no "magic date." For about three decades, up until then-Commandant Gen. Robert Cushman stepped down in the summer of 1975, the Marine Corps used to change commandants on Jan. 1, he noted.

Asked during the interview if he is ready to retire this summer, Hagee simply repeated that he would depart between now and Jan. 13.

According to active-duty and retired service officials, as well as industry sources, Hagee's potential successors include Lt. Gen. Robert Blackman, commander of Marine Corps Forces Command in Norfolk, VA; Lt. Gen. James Conway, director of operations for the Joint Staff at the Pentagon; and Lt. Gen. James Mattis, commander of Marine Corps Combat Development Command in Quantico, VA.

Some sources said Gen. James "Hoss" Cartwright, an aviator now in charge of U.S. Strategic Command, also might be considered. Cartwright is said to be tight with Rumsfeld. The Marine Corps has never before had an aviator as commandant. This would be a big departure from the tradition of picking a ground officer, but Rumsfeld has a penchant for breaking traditions, a retired military officer noted.

According to the book "Commandants of the Marine Corps" by Allan Millett and

Jack Shulimson, published in 2004, an officer selected to be commandant has usually served as a lieutenant general and must have the support of political leaders, particularly the defense secretary. The incumbent commandant typically suggests the names of three individuals to the Navy secretary, who also discusses the matter with the chief of naval operations.

Members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, particularly the chairman, may weigh in too, more than likely casting a negative vote, according to the book. Though the president makes the final nomination, the decision almost always rests with the defense secretary.

-- Christopher J. Castelli