Clinton names son of noted general as head of Marine Corps

March 14, 1995|By Gilbert A. Lewthwaite | Gilbert A. Lewthwaite,Washington Bureau of The Sun

WASHINGTON -- Lt. Gen. Charles C. Krulak, son of a Marine general, graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, and veteran of Vietnam and the Persian Gulf war, was named yesterday the new commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps.

He takes over from Gen. Carl E. Mundy Jr., who is retiring, at a time when the 174,000-member force is being increasingly deployed in an unstable world, its budget is strained, and the way the Corps operates is under outside review.

"He brings to the job of commandant a dynamic vision of the Marine Corps' future, a wealth of experience, and a highly effective leadership and managerial style," President Clinton said in a statement.

The much-decorated General Krulak, 53, has wide command experience, at home and overseas and staff assignments in both the Pentagon and the White House. He is now commander of Marine Forces in the Pacific, a job his father, Lt. Gen. Victor H. "Brute" Krulak, now retired, held before him.

While his father was Pacific commander, the younger Krulak served the first of two tours of combat duty in Vietnam, where he commanded a Marine platoon and two rifle companies. His father was in line for the top Marine job three decades ago but didn't get it.

"The general has just a tremendous degree of drive and energy," said a Marine officer who has worked with and sometimes run afoul of General Krulak. "He is definitely someone who is not going to get rolled over by politicians. He is someone who is going to speak his mind, attach himself to some vision for the Corps and fight to implement it."

General Krulak follows in the Marine tradition of infantry officers, rather than aviators, commanding the Marine Corps. But he is also the first graduate of the Naval Academy in 20 years to hold the post. Only 7 percent of Marine officers graduate from Annapolis; the last commandant to go that route was Gen. Robert E. Cushman Jr, who led the Corps from 1972 to 1975. The previous Annapolis graduate to reach the top of the Marine Corps was Gen. Wallace M. Greene, commandant from 1964 to 1968.

General Krulak graduated with the Naval Academy Class of 1964. One of his classmates was John Dalton, now Navy secretary, who recommended his selection as commandant to the president. His promotion was slated to be announced in Iwo Jima early today, coinciding with ceremonies to mark the 50th anniversary of the World War II battle for that island. The top job is a four-year assignment that normally leads to retirement.

Earlier in his education, the young Krulak attended Phillips Exeter Academy, a prep school in Exeter, N.H., with the novelist John Irving. In the acknowledgments in his 1989 novel "A Prayer for Owen Meany," Mr. Irving paid tribute to General Krulak as "my hero."

General Krulak's Navy connection could serve him well as he takes over command at a time when "jointness" -- the ability of the four armed services to fight together -- is a priority in the Pentagon.

One debate he will find himself in is the extent to which Marine forces are interchangeable with other service units. Can Army artillery substitute for Marine artillery? Can the Air Force fly close-air support as well as Marine pilots?

"The whole roles and missions fight gets into the issue of whether we are going to keep a balanced capability, or whether the Marine Corps is going to be reduced to something approximating the British commandos," said John Greenwood, a retired colonel who edits the Marine Corps Gazette in Quantico, Va.

If confirmed by the Senate, General Krulak will be a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the central command authority of the military services. Immediately, he will be caught on the horns of the central dilemma that is making life difficult for all the service chiefs: the conflict between spending scarce dollars on immediate combat readiness and investing in long-term modernization of the force.

General Krulak follows two Corps commandants, General Mundy and Gen. Alfred M. Gray Jr., who were credited with being powerful spokesmen for the Marines on Capitol Hill.

Over the past four years, General Mundy successfully fought off efforts to reduce the size of the Marine Corps. The Bush administration wanted to shrink the Corps to 159,000. The Marines wanted 177,000. The final agreement under the Clinton administration: 174,000.

"Now that the Marine Corps has all the people it wants, the challenge is to field a force of that size with all the things that the Marines have been talking about," said Ron O'Rourke, naval analyst with the Congressional Research Service.

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