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Posted: 8/21/2004 1:14:26 AM EDT
August 20, 2004

Air Force general to succeed Fargo as Pacific Command chief

By Gordon Trowbridge
Times staff writer

Breaking with five decades of tradition, an Air Force general has been named to take over U.S. Pacific Command. Gen. Gregory Martin, who now heads Air Force Material Command, would be the first Air Force general to hold the post. A Navy admiral has headed the command, the largest of the Pentagon’s regional joint commands, since its inception in 1947.

If confirmed by the Senate, Martin is expected to take over the Hawaii-based command in November. He would replace Adm. Thomas Fargo, who is retiring.

A key Hawaii lawmaker said he was surprised by the move.

“I just assumed that it would be an admiral, and I think most people had the same assumption,” Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, a veteran and member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, told the Honolulu Advertiser newspaper. “I think most people are rather surprised — shocked maybe.”

Inouye has previously emphasized that the Pacific Command has been a “water command” and should be led by an admiral. The senator said he would not oppose the nomination, but that it would require additional diplomacy to explain the break from tradition with Asian allies.

An Asia expert said Pentagon officials have in the past considered breaking the Navy’s hold on PaCom.

“Several Marine four-stars had been seriously considered,” said Ralph Cossa, a retired Air Force officer and president of the Honolulu-based Pacific Forum of the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “At the end of the day the Navy has always put up a very strong candidate.”

Cossa said the move could be seen as another attempt by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to shake up the uniformed bureaucracy.

“It’s very clear that Rumsfeld enjoys breaking crockery,” Cossa said. But he added that previous administrations had also broken with tradition in senior-officer appointments, and that Martin’s previous background in NATO — he served as commander of U.S. Air Forces Europe before taking over materiel command — made him well qualified for the diplomatic aspects of PaCom.

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