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Bush nominates Myers as Joint Chiefs chairman

Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers  

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers was tabbed to become the top uniformed officer in the United States military Friday, when President George W. Bush introduced Myers as his nominee to be the nation's next chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

The nomination, which must be confirmed by the Senate, comes at a time when Bush has ordered a top-to-bottom review of the entire military -- a review now being conducted by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

Bush said Myers, a 36-year veteran of the Air Force who logged 600 hours as a fighter pilot in Vietnam, is the right man to balance the challenge of handling the military's current needs with the need to transform the armed services for the 21st Century.

The Joint Chiefs of Staff consist of the chairman, vice chairman, the chief of staff of the Army, the chief of staff of Naval Operations, the Air Force chief of staff, and the commandant of the Marine Corps.

The chairman sets the agenda and presides over meetings.

The chairman is considered the highest ranking officer in the armed services, and serves as the principal adviser to the president, as well as the secretary of defense and the National Security Council. All members of the Joint Chiefs are, by law, military advisers.

Speaking at a news conference in Crawford, Texas, Bush called Myers "the right man to preserve the best traditions of our armed forces, while challenging them to innovate to meet the threats of the future."

"General Myers is a man of steady resolve and determined leadership," Bush said. "His is a skilled and steady hand."

Myers, 59, joined the Air Force in 1965, the year he graduated from Kansas State University and joined the Reserve Officer Training Corps Program. Overall, he has more than 4,000 flying hours as a command pilot.

He has been serving as vice chairman since last year. Army Gen. Hugh Shelton, the current Joint Chiefs chairman, is completing his second term.

"This is going to be great," said Myers, who said he is "ready to roll up his sleeves" and get to work. He said he plans to build the kind of military envisioned by Bush -- one that will meet "current obligations and emerging threats."

"If confirmed, I very much look forward to remaining part of this terrific defense team captained by a dedicated, a visionary and principled secretary of defense," he said, referring to Rumsfeld, who stood nearby.

Noting Myers' origins in Kansas, Rumsfeld called him "a man of the prairie, who's conquered the skies."

"His career is the embodiment of the transformation with which he will be charged as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff," the defense secretary said.

Bush's selection immediately received a positive reaction from Sen. Carl Levin, the Michigan Democrat who is chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee. Levin will preside over confirmation hearings for Myers and for Gen. Peter Pace, a Marine who was nominated to replace Myers as vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs.

"General Myers and General Pace have distinguished records of service to the nation, and both of them are well prepared for the important positions to which the president has nominated them," Levin said in a statement. "Both officers are well-known to the Armed Services Committee."

Myers' long resume

Myers' career has included stints as commander of U.S. forces in Japan and Air Forces in the Pacific, as well as assistant to Joint Chiefs Chairman John Shalikashvili during the Clinton administration.

He headed the Space Command from 1998 to 2000 and became an ardent advocate of using and protecting satellites as military assets. That experience has been considered crucial as Bush made his choice for Shelton's successor. "He is someone who understands that the strengths of America's armed forces are our people and our technological superiority and we must invest in both," Bush said.

Retired U.S. Army Col. Daniel Smith, now at the Center for Defense Information, said Myers' experience in Space Command and his knowledge of futuristic weapons systems makes him an especially good fit at a time when the administration is considering transforming the services and establishing a space-based missile defense system.

"He seems to be, from his background, very much in sync with the priorities the administration has set," Smith said in an interview.

Smith added that the selection of Pace as vice chairman -- the first time a Marine has been picked for that post -- also fits with Bush's desire for transformation of the military. Davis said Pace's background in the Marines, a quick reaction force, makes him a good fit to work on some of the changes being contemplated in Rumsfeld's review.

Bush defends military budget

The president also vowed Friday to fight to maintain his proposal to increase military spending by $18 billion next year, despite concerns voiced in recent days by congressional leaders who said that may not be possible because of the shrinking budget surplus.

"This is money our military needs and money our budget allows," Bush said. "We're not only going to spend more on national defense, we're going to spend it more wisely."

He predicted: "There's going to be a battle. There's always a battle over whether defense is getting too much or not enough. Our position is it's been under-funded, and we expect Congress to respond."

Part of the reason for the funding increase is to help pay for the transformation envisioned once Rumsfeld's review is completed. If confirmed, Myers would have the task of helping Congress understand why funding is needed so changes can be made for the sake of current and long-term national security.

On Thursday, Rumsfeld denied recent reports that he has scaled back his expectations for reshaping the U.S. military as he continues his review. Though reports have said the review has received a chilly response from military brass and some officials, the secretary said his expectations for change are "realistic."

"The idea that we've gone from telling the services what to do down to telling the services 'do anything you want' reflects an inability to understand nuance," Rumsfeld said.

Among the ideas discussed during the preparation of the so-called defense planning guidance is eliminating some Army troops, Navy aircraft carriers and Air Force planes. The defense secretary said the review is ongoing, and did not say whether it would result in a smaller military.

Pentagon officials said the final guidance will not contain specific numbers for troop levels or weapons, and it remains uncertain whether there will be any cuts.

-- CNN's Manuel Perez-Rivas contributed to this report.

• The White House
• The Department of Defense

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