WASHINGTON – Defense Secretary Ash Carter nominated two top military officers Wednesday to take charge of the Army and Navy, selecting men who have faced public scrutiny over the past year for their key leadership roles in high-profile cases.
Speaking at the Pentagon, Carter said he is recommending Adm. John Richardson, head of the Navy's nuclear program, to be the next chief of naval operations, and Gen. Mark Milley to be the next Army chief of staff.
Milley, the current head of U.S. Army Forces Command at Fort Bragg, N.C., was assigned to review the case of Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who abandoned his post in Afghanistan and was held captive by the Taliban for five years. After spending months reviewing the massive case file, Milley made the decision to charge Bergdahl with desertion and misbehavior before the enemy.
Richardson has served as director of the Navy's nuclear reactors program since November 2012, and last year he ordered a broad investigation into allegations that a cheating ring had operated undetected for at least seven years at a nuclear power training site. Nearly three dozen sailors were kicked out of the program after the Navy discovered they were cheating on qualification exams. They were seeking to become qualified as instructors at the nuclear training unit in Charleston, South Carolina. Students there are trained in nuclear reactor operations to prepare for service on any of the Navy's 83 nuclear-powered submarines and aircraft carriers.
Both men face Senate confirmation.
Carter called Milley, who served multiple tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, a "warrior and a statesman" and said he has long been impressed by the general's candor and good judgment.
Richardson, Carter added, is a "bold thinker" and a go-to officer for many of the Navy's tough issues. Carter joked that he had to wrestle Richardson away from the secretary of energy; in his role as director of the Navy program, Richardson also serves as the deputy administrator for the National Nuclear Security Administration, which is part of the Energy Department.
Richardson is a 1982 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy with a degree in physics, and he also holds a master's degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He has served as director of the Navy's nuclear reactors program since November 2012, and his choice signals the military's continued emphasis on undersea warfare and nuclear deterrence.
One official said Richardson has a reputation in the Navy as an analytical, strategic thinker, and said he is expected to continue to make the planned nuclear submarine replacement program a top priority.
Milley graduated and received his commission from Princeton University in 1980. In addition to a number of command jobs across the Army, he has also served as a member of the Army special forces. He led the 10th Mountain Division's 2nd Brigade during tours in both Iraq and Afghanistan, and later served as deputy commanding general and commanding general during two other Afghanistan tours.
Prior to taking the Forces Command job in August 2014, he was the commander at Fort Hood, Texas. He was in charge when a soldier being treated for mental illness gunned down three people and wounded 16 others before shooting himself.