Gates appoints new Air Force chief

June 10, 2008|By David Wood | David Wood,Sun reporter

WASHINGTON - Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates has selected a veteran special forces pilot and commander to be the Air Force's new top officer.

Gen. Norton A. Schwartz, who is the four-star commander of the U.S. Transportation Command and former deputy commander of the U.S. Special Operations Command, has been nominated to become the new Air Force chief of staff, its highest position. Gates abruptly removed the current chief of staff and Air Force secretary last week.

Schwartz, a veteran C-130 pilot, has logged years of service on the Joint Staff and with special operations commands in Europe and the Pacific.

As expected, Gates also nominated Michael Donley as Air Force secretary, its highest civilian position. Donley, a former special forces paratrooper, is Gates' top administrative trouble-shooter at the Pentagon.

Neither Schwartz nor Donley comes from the Air Force "fighter mafia," which has dominated the service's leadership for decades.

In an unprecedented move last week, Gates ousted Air Force Secretary Michael Wynne and Chief of Staff Gen. Michael Moseley after a series of embarrassing blunders involving the service's handling of nuclear weapons and components.

Last year, the Air Force mistakenly loaded nuclear-tipped missile on a B-52 bomber that flew across the country before the error was noticed. Earlier, the Air Force shipped nuclear weapons triggers to Taiwan.

Gates is going to three major Air Force bases today and tomorrow to underscore his demand that the service tighten procedures and accept more accountability for its actions.

Gates asked President Bush to designate Donley as acting secretary effective June 21, the day Wynne's departure takes effect, so that Donley can get started on his duties while awaiting Senate confirmation.

"I am confident that Mike Donley, General Schwartz and the new Air Force leadership team have the qualifications, skill and commitment to excellence necessary to guide the Air Force through this transition and beyond," Gates said.

Tony McPeak, the retired general who was Air Force chief of staff during the first Persian Gulf War in the early 1990s, said in a telephone interview yesterday that he welcomed the selections of Schwartz and Donley.

"It's not a mainstream kind of thing" to choose an officer with Schwartz's extensive background in special operations, McPeak said. But Schwartz has broad experience, including holding senior positions on the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

david.wood@baltsun.com

Wire services contributed to this article.

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