Army General Raymond T. Odierno has emerged as the most likely officer to succeed General James Cartwright of the Marine Corps as Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Some Pentagon insiders say Cartwright is maneuvering to become Chairman and others say he has already decided to retire, but one thing is certain: he is leaving the Vice Chairman’s position this year. That has unleashed a wave of speculation about who might succeed him in the Vice Chairman’s job, the second most senior position in the joint force. Cartwright has exercised extensive influence over weapons decisions behind the scenes, and is widely thought to be a favorite of the Obama White House — useful precedents for whoever succeeds him.
Tradition dictates that the position of Chairman and Vice Chairman rotate among the services, but the sea services recently have seemed to have a stronger claim on both jobs than the Army or Air Force. When Marine General Peter Pace and Admiral Edmund Giambastiani departed the jobs in 2007, they were replaced by Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Mike Mullen and Marine General Cartwright. Not surprisingly, Army and Air Force leaders think their services are overdue for one of the top slots. But most of the speculation about who will become the next Chairman has once again revolved around sea-service candidates, increasing pressure to pick a Vice Chairman from the one of the other services.
Late last year, some insiders were saying that Air Force Chief of Staff General Norton Schwartz was a strong candidate to succeed Cartwright as Vice Chairman, but that speculation has now given way to a belief that Odierno is more likely to get the job. Proponents of this position say Odierno’s two tours heading the Multi-National Force in Iraq have given him a stature few other four-stars can match, and that moving him into the position of Army Vice Chief when incumbent General Peter Chiarelli departs would be under-utilizing his operational expertise. They also say that Odierno has done a good job in his current holding pattern as head of Joint Forces Command preparing the organization to be disbanded as directed by defense secretary Robert Gates. So the smart money now says Odierno is frontrunner to win the Vice Chairman’s job, which would put the New Jersey native in a position to protect ground-force interests at a time when some observers think the nation’s strategic needs are shifting towards air power and sea power.
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