Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced plans Friday to replace the two top officials on the Joint Chiefs of Staff, recommending the head of Offutt Air Force Base's U.S. Strategic Command to become the new No. 2.
Marine Gen. James Cartwright, who has led StratCom since 2004, would replace Adm. Ed Giambastiani as vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs if confirmed by the Senate.
His selection was praised by Nebraska's congressional delegation.
"Although the Offutt community will miss General Cartwright's steady leadership at StratCom, I strongly believe President Bush has picked the right person at the right time," said Rep. Lee Terry, R-Neb.
The Bush administration concluded that Marine Gen. Peter Pace, current chairman of the Joint Chiefs, would face a contentious confirmation hearing focused on the Iraq war should he be reappointed, Gates said.
Gates instead recommended Adm. Mike Mullin, chief of naval operations, to replace Pace.
It is customary for the panel's chairman and vice chairman to come from different branches of the service, and Giambastiani's retirement, announced earlier this week, opened the post for Cartwright.
"We are a nation at war, and it is my duty and honor to serve the men and women of the armed forces of this great country," Cartwright said.
Cartwright arrived at StratCom in the midst of sweeping changes, which had accelerated when StratCom merged with U.S. Space Command in 2002.
StratCom has expanded from its traditional mission at the head of U.S. nuclear forces, adding a range of new responsibilities that includes missile defense, cyberwarfare, space assets, global intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, and global strike capabilities.
Under Cartwright's leadership, StratCom picked up even more responsibilities, including a lead role in combating weapons of mass destruction.
StratCom also collaborated with the Peter Kiewit Information, Science, Technology and Engineering Institute to open a think tank on the University of Nebraska at Omaha's south campus. The center brings academic, military and industry experts together to work on problems related to StratCom's various missions.
To coordinate the wide array of assignments, Cartwright established joint commands around the country for the major missions. Each smaller command - based from California to Colorado to Washington - reports directly to StratCom.
"He has brought StratCom some new missions and solidified ones they already had. I think he's done a really terrific job," said Phillip Coyle, a former assistant secretary of defense and a senior adviser at the Center for Defense Information.
Cartwright's common-sense approach to complex military problems has won him respect in Congress and the Pentagon alike, Coyle said.
His management has helped StratCom keep its wide range of missions, which has been key to staying relevant, experts said.
"Certainly, it's become a more relevant command in the last four years, as it's moved away from being just the nuclear command," said John Pike, a defense analyst at GlobalSecurity.org.
"Being in charge of the nukes is kind of the "Maytag Repairman" of commands, which is a good thing. I don't think anyone wants the nuclear command to be the most active," he said.
Both of Nebraska's senators said they back Cartwright's nomination.
"General Cartwright has been one of the most effective StratCom commanders we've had at Offutt Air Force Base. He will be missed by the Nebraska community, but his leadership is required in his new capacity," said Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb.
Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., said Offutt and StratCom could benefit from Cartwright's new role, too.
"Nebraska is fortunate to have a man who has a strong relationship with our state serve in such an important role. General Cartwright knows firsthand how critical Offutt Air Force Base is to our national security and to Nebraska," Nelson said.
Marine Gen. James Cartwright
Commissioned a 2nd lieutenant in the Marine Corps, November 1971.
Trained as a naval aviator, piloted F-4, OA-4, and F/A-18.
Took command of StratCom in 2004.
Previous command assignments included director of force structure for the Joint Staff, 2002-2004, and commanding general of the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing, 2000-2002.