2015 will be the first year since 1972 that Andy Marshall won't be the Pentagon's chief strategist. Marshall, 93, retired Jan. 2 as director of DoD's Office of Net Assessment, but the office he founded will survive, reporting directly to the defense secretary and his deputy.

That's very good news. In late 2013, the future of the office was in doubt.

In an era of diverse challenges and rapid technological change, the practice of net assessment — determining emerging threats and opportunities through interdisciplinary analysis — is vital.

Marshall's strength was taking the time to ask the right questions and creating interesting scenarios, then conducting sophisticated war games and exercises to test the soundness of those scenarios as well as strategic plans.

During his long tenure, Marshall, in nonpartisan fashion, advised defense secretaries, studying broad societal, demographic and technological trends to give early warning of looming strategic challenges, among them the implications of a strong and assertive China. And he mentored a veritable army of top thinkers who will shape national security for generations to come.

While revered in China, Marshall irritated many in US defense for challenging conventional wisdom and asking hard questions.

No single individual has had a greater, nor more sustained, effect on US national security, whether through his work to ensure success during the Cold War, or the decades after by consistently finding ways to impose strategic costs on America's adversaries.

To reward Marshall's 66 years of uninterrupted and "especially meritorious contribution to the security or national interests of the United States," it would be fitting that President Barack Obama award Marshall the Presidential Medal of Freedom with Distinction.

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