WASHINGTON — Army Gen. Mark Milley is taking over as the nation’s top military officer against a backdrop of controversy over defense aid to Ukraine that has triggered a presidential impeachment inquiry at a time of persistent threats from China, Russia and Iran.
Milley, who was sworn in during a rain-soaked ceremony Monday at Joint Base Myer-Henderson, will officially become chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and President Donald Trump’s top military adviser at midnight. And he will face what has been an increasingly difficult task: maintaining the nonpolitical nature of the U.S. military and providing blunt advice to a president who is prone to making sudden Pentagon announcements via Twitter and abruptly turning on Cabinet members who cross him.
In a brief speech Monday, Milley told Trump, “You can rest assured that I will always provide you informed, candid, impartial military advice to you.” And he vowed to maintain the high quality of the world’s preeminent fighting force.
“With the complex challenges of the international environment, the United States Armed Forces stand ready. We stand ready to keep the peace or, if necessary, win the war,” he said.
Trump, who attended the ceremony, praised Milley, saying, “Mark is living proof that the American warfighter is the toughest, smartest and bravest, best and brightest by far anywhere in the world.”
Pentagon leaders have largely tried to avoid the impeachment matter. House Democrats are moving ahead with their probe into a phone call and whistleblower complaint that Trump pressured Ukraine’s president to investigate Democratic foe Joe Biden’s family.
But the issue casts broad questions over whether allies must worry that any U.S. military aid could come with political strings attached. And Milley will be at the forefront of military deliberations with U.S. allies and partners around the world.
The matter did not come up during the Fort Myer ceremony. But, addressing the visiting chiefs of defense from other nations who attended the event, Milley said in his speech that their presence “demonstrates the importance of our shared security interest and common values. As chairman, I look forward to working with all of you to ensure our collective security.”
Milley, 61, has been serving as the Army chief of staff since August 2015, and he succeeds Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford as Joint Chiefs chairman. A combat-hardened veteran, Milley commanded troops during several tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.
A native of Winchester, Massachusetts, Milley received his Army commission from Princeton University in 1980. An infantry officer by training, he commanded Special Forces units in a career that included deployments in the invasion of Panama in 1989 and the multinational mission in Bosnia-Herzegovina to implement the Dayton Peace Accords.
As the Army’s leader, Milley helped shepherd the groundbreaking move of women into front-line infantry and other combat positions. 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 last year.
Associated Press writer Kevin Freking in Washington contributed to this report.