Passing the Torch

As the troop buildup continues in Operation Enduring Freedom, the Pentagon underwent a formal changing of the guard Monday.

General Hugh Shelton, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, officially turned over his rein, ending a four-year term that began with an appointment by President Clinton and included oversight of the war in Kosovo. 

Shelton thanked President Bush in his parting remarks for his leadership during this new wartime era.

"Our nation is indeed fortunate to have President Bush's great leadership to resolve these difficult times," he said.

Shelton said he leaves behind a military that is ready for the challenges ahead.

"Recent evil and barbaric attacks have been made against the United States and the people of the free world.  Our nation has responded with a similar call to all nations to join together in a combined campaign against international terrorism, and in President Bush's recent speech to a joint session of Congress... he gave clear direction to the military to be ready.  Mr. Secretary, on this day as I leave office, I am proud to report that America's military is ready," he said.

Shelton leaves after 38 years in the military.  He was a member of special operations forces in Vietnam and went on to command the 82nd airborne and the 101st airborne.  Those were the first troops deployed after terror attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.  At the ceremony, he received his fourth Defense Distinguished Service Medal award.

Shelton is being replaced by a friend, Air Force General Richard Myers, who was appointed this summer by President Bush.  President Bush picked Myers because of his expertise in missile defense, but General Shelton said Myers is a perfect choice for the mission underway.

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld praised Shelton, saying that he was attentive to his troops and worked for their pay raise, boosted readiness and recruitment, and increased the interoperability of forces.

"America's armed forces are ready and we're ready in no small part, because Hugh Shelton has made readiness his first priority," Rumsfeld said. 

The Beat Goes On

Meanwhile, the U.S. Navy says the aircraft carrier Kitty Hawk and its battle group have left Japan for duty in Operation Enduring Freedom. The Kitty Hawk has about 70 planes on board.  The destination of the carrier has not been disclosed.

It is expected that the mission for the carrier will be somewhat different from others in the Indian Ocean.  The Kitty Hawk is not a nuclear-powered carrier so it cannot be deployed for as long a period of time, perhaps a month or so.  But the Navy has been quick to point out the potential firepower the U.S. has at its disposal. 

The USS Carl Vinson is at an undisclosed location in the Arabian Sea, as is the USS Enterprise.  And the aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt and its battle group, which left Norfolk, Virginia, two weeks ago, is expected in the region at any time.

In Saudi Arabia, Air Force officials and diplomats continued discussions with the Saudi government over U.S. troops based there.  This past weekend, the Saudi government reversed itself and said it would not allow the U.S. to conduct offensive operations from Saudi territory, including the Prince Sultan Air Base near the capital Riyadh.  Since the Persian Gulf War, the U.S. has spent millions of dollars upgrading command and control facilities there and military planners are expecting to use the base to control all air operations in the region.

Officials were optimistic that the Saudi concerns would be worked out, perhaps by pledging that warplanes will not be launched from Saudi Arabia.