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Adm. Jonathan W. Greenert Something of a Surprise as Next Chief of Naval Operations

Defense Secretary Robert Gates said June 16 that he would recommend that President Barack Obama nominate Adm. Jonathan W. Greenert to become chief of naval operations (CNO). Greenert is vice chief of naval operations and a submarine officer. Expected to win Senate confirmation easily, Greenert will replace Adm. Gary Roughead, who has been CNO since September 2007 and is retiring in the fall.

Greenert, 58, called Jon by friends, is from Butler, Pa. He is a 1975 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis, Md. Among many assignments, he commanded the nuclear attack submarine USS Honolulu (SSN 718), which was later decommissioned. He has a broad-based record as an operational commander and received the prestigious Vice Adm. James Stockdale leadership award in 1992 as one of the Navy’s top leaders.

“He is the right man to lead our Navy,” Roughead said.

Greenert also enjoys solid experience in the world of budget planning. He is expected to be skilled at making the Navy’s case on Capitol Hill. Given the administration’s pledge to find $400 billion in defense savings over the next 12 years, Greenert will have to re-shape a somewhat downsized Navy. “He knows how to ask the right questions,” retired Vice Adm. Lou Crenshaw, a budget expert, told the trade journal Navy Times.

In his current position, Greenert has pointed to the strain being placed on the defense budget by personnel costs and has cautioned that military pay and benefits may take hits in the future. Greenert is also regarded as something of an information technology (IT) expert and may use this expertise to find fiscal savings throughout the sea service.

Greenert is not well known outside the Navy and some in Washington saw his nomination as a surprise. The selection of Greenert was perceived by some as a snub to Adm. James G. Stavridis, the U.S. combatant commander in Europe who had been regarded as a possible chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff or as a possible CNO – slots that are both now filled by others. “After having two combatant commander jobs it might have been seen as a step down for Stavridis to become CNO,” said naval analyst Norman Polmar in a telephone interview. “Also, Stavridis has the potential disadvantage of being too closely associated with [former Defense Secretary] Donald Rumsfeld, for whom he served as a staff assistant.”

Adm. John C. Harvey, Jr., commander, U.S. Fleet Forces Command – a slot previously held by Greenert – was also thought to be a strong candidate to become the nation’s top sailor, but did not get the nod. “A brilliant man and very hard working,” Polmar said of Harvey.

Greenert’s nomination breaks a string of three consecutive surface warfare officers in the CNO slot. Possible candidates to replace Greenert as vice CNO include Vice Adm. Michael H. Miller, the superintendent of the Naval Academy and a naval aviator; and Vice Adm. Mark Ferguson, chief of naval personnel, another submariner.

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Robert F. Dorr is an author, U.S. Air Force veteran, and retired American diplomat who...