U.S. President Donald Trump will tap Gen. Mark Milley as his next top military adviser, choosing a battle-hardened commander who has served as chief of the Army for the last three years, U.S. officials said Friday.
If confirmed by the Senate, Milley would succeed Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the pinnacle of a military career. Dunford, a former commandant of the Marine Corps and commander of coalition troops in Afghanistan, is expected to serve out his term as Joint Chiefs chairman, which ends Oct. 1.
Milley, who commanded troops during several tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, has served as the Army's top officer since August 2015. Several officials confirmed the decision on condition of anonymity because it had not been announced.
Trump is expected to announce his decision Saturday at the annual Army-Navy football game in Philadelphia.
The decision caught some in the Pentagon by surprise on Friday. Normally an announcement on a new chairman wouldn't be expected until early next year. The officials said the Air Force chief, Gen. David Goldfein, was also a strong contender for the job, but they indicated that Milley has a very good relationship with the president.
Trump hinted earlier Friday that he would be making an announcement on Saturday, when he attends the game and is expected to perform the coin toss to decide which team gets the ball first. "I can give you a little hint: It will have to do with the Joint Chiefs of Staff and succession," he said.
Milley is known as a charismatic, outgoing leader who has not been afraid to offer candid and sometimes blunt assessments to Congress. Last year he admonished the House Armed Services Committee for its inability to approve a defense budget, slamming it as "professional malpractice." And in 2016, he told lawmakers, in answer to a direct question, that women should also have to register for the draft now that they are allowed to serve in all combat jobs.
As the Army's top leader, he helped shepherd the groundbreaking move of women into front-line infantry and other combat positions, while warning that it would take time to do it right. More recently, he has worked with his senior officers to reverse a shortfall in Army recruiting when the service fell far short of its annual goal this year.
He also played a role in one of the Army's more contentious criminal cases. While serving as head of U.S. Army Forces Command at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, Milley was assigned to review the case of former Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who abandoned his post in Afghanistan and was held captive by the Taliban for five years.
Milley made the early decision to charge Bergdahl with desertion and misbehavior before the enemy. Bergdahl was eventually found guilty, reduced in rank to private, dishonorably discharged and fined $10,000, but was spared any additional prison time.
A native of Winchester, Massachusetts, and a fervent supporter of the Boston Red Sox and other city teams, Milley received his Army commission from Princeton University in 1980. An infantry officer by training, he also commanded Special Forces units in a career that included deployments in the invasion of Panama in 1989; the multinational mission in Bosnia-Herzegovina to implement the Dayton Peace Accords; and the Iraq war.
He also served as deputy commanding general of U.S. forces in Afghanistan. He is a former commander of the 82nd Airborne Division and the 5th Special Forces Group.
Dunford was picked as chairman of the Joint Chiefs in 2015 by former President Barack Obama. Trump nominated him for a second two-year term last year.
The Milley move starts a series of military leadership changes in coming months, including successors in 2019 for Adm. John Richardson as the chief of naval operations, Gen. Robert Neller as commandant of the Marine Corps, and Air Force Gen. Paul Selva as vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs. Trump also will pick a replacement for Milley as Army chief.
Goldfein began his term as Air Force chief of staff in 2016, so wouldn't be expected to step down until the summer of 2020.