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Sendoff for Shelton as Myers steps in at Pentagon

Gen. Hugh Shelton
Shelton's farewell Monday ends a 38-year Army career.  

By Ian Christopher McCaleb
CNN Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The armed services and members of official Washington thanked Army Gen. Hugh Shelton on Monday for his four-year tour as the nation's highest-ranking military officer, just hours after incoming Joint Chiefs Chairman Richard Myers took his oath of service.

Shelton, nominated by President Bill Clinton in October 1997 to serve as the nation's 14th chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, ended his term at midnight, clearing the way for Myers, an Air Force general, to step in -- at perhaps one of the most challenging hours in U.S. military history.

Shelton steps aside as the United States is dispatching forces to the Persian Gulf region and to south and central Asia in response to the terror attacks September 11 on New York and Washington.

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The U.S. military is now expected to face an enemy that is hard to quantify, unlike the established militaries it has fought in the past. The terror networks targeted by the United States do not practice conventional methods of military engagement, but rely on surprise as they attempt to hit their enemies at their most vulnerable points.

The significance of the moment was not lost on those who spoke late Monday morning at Shelton's farewell ceremony at Fort Myer, in Arlington, Virginia. The sprawling base, a short distance from the Pentagon and downtown Washington, serves as the headquarters of the Army's honor guards and chiefs of staff.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld thanked Shelton for four years of service as head of the Joint Chiefs, and for 38 years as a specialist in airborne strategy and special operations tactics. His counsel and his leadership, Rumsfeld said, will serve as a significant guidepost in the months ahead.

Shelton helped to develop a strategy that will allow the U.S. to operate despite "not knowing the direction of a future threat," though it will know the extent of its enemies' capabilities, according to Rumsfeld.

He has shown us "how to size and equip a 21st century military force," Rumsfeld added. "He has helped to prepare the force and has guided us with a leadership from which we will continue to benefit."

The job of coordinating the efforts of all the services in the nation's war against terrorism now falls upon Myers, whose strategic philosophy as the Air Force commander has centered on space-based surveillance and defense technologies. His appointment by the Bush administration -- prior to the September 11 attacks -- was in line with the president's aim to redefine the military establishment to focus on technology upgrades and a refined force structure.

Myers faces the challenge of leading a military tasked with second-guessing an enemy whose ability to strike and take cover may render many U.S. technological capabilities useless.

"I know our men and women are in good hands with you at the helm," Shelton said to Myers, as he delivered brief farewell remarks. Myers did not speak Monday.

"I am reminded of time in late 1930s when the winds of war began to envelop Europe…" Shelton said. "Recent evil and barbaric attacks have been made against the United States and the people of the free world.

"On this day, as I leave office, I am proud to report that our nation is ready," he said.

Shelton's departure closes a book that includes chapters of service in Vietnam, Haiti and the Persian Gulf. As Joint Chiefs chair under President Clinton, he oversaw several U.S. peacekeeping missions in the Balkans, the 1999 air campaign to drive Serb forces from Kosovo, and the ongoing enforcement of the so-called "no-fly zones" over northern and southern Iraq.


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