General Mark Milley, the US Chief of Staff, retired on Friday after a four-year term and was praised by President Joe Biden as a warrior who served in war zones from Afghanistan and Iraq to Panama and Haiti.
During his time in office, the head of the Islamic State, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, was killed in 2019, and military aid was provided to Ukraine to defend against Russian aggression.
But his tenure also included a chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan two years ago and a rocky relationship with former President Donald Trump.
Describing Mr Milley as “unwavering in the face of danger”, Mr Biden said that on one occasion he “ran across a mine-blocked bridge to stop two tanks evacuating wounded troops from crossing”.
“Mark, your partnership has been invaluable to me,” said President Biden.
In a ceremony held at Myer Henderson Hall Air Force Base near Washington, Mr. Milley handed over command to the commander of the Air Force, Gen. Charles Q. Brown.
Mr. Brown is the second African-American officer to become the US Chief of Staff, after Colin Powell two decades ago. President Biden said that Mr. Milley served in war zones and could prove this with his “chest full of medals.”
In his remarks, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin recalled a moment during the Iraq war when he and Mr. Milley were serving in Baghdad and their vehicle was damaged when it was hit by an improvised explosive device while on their way to a hospital. to see a wounded soldier.
“Has this happened to you before?” Mr Austin had asked her. “And he said, oh yeah, I’ve been blown up five times already.”
THE DIFFICULT RELATIONSHIP WITH MR TRUMP
Mr. Milley took office in 2019 after being nominated by Mr. Trump, but quickly faced the need to balance maintaining a relationship with him without appearing politically biased.
In 2020 he publicly apologized for joining Mr. Trump as he walked from the White House to a nearby church to take a photo after authorities had dispersed protesters in the street using tear gas and rubber bullets.
Mr Milley said on Wednesday he had to take action to protect his family after Mr Trump suggested he had colluded with China, an act he said would once have cost him his life.
Mr. Brown told attendees that his goal will be to deter aggression and “fight when duty calls.” He said the U.S. military “must focus on modernization” with new concepts and approaches.
The appointment of Mr. Brown, a former fighter pilot with experience in the Pacific region, means that African Americans will hold the two most important positions in the Pentagon for the first time – a major milestone for an institution that is diverse in its lower ranks, but in leadership positions there are mostly white men.
President Biden nominated Mr. Austin as US Secretary of Defense, the first African American to hold the post, which represents the highest civilian position in the Pentagon.