General With A Key Pentagon Role To Retire

By Thomas E. Ricks, Washington Post Staff Writer
May 2, 2002
Pg. 13

A key general in the U.S. war on terrorism has decided he so dislikes his job that he plans to leave the military at the end of this summer .

Marine Lt. Gen. Gregory S. Newbold is the director of operations on the staff of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, a slot in which he coordinates the daily activities of the U.S. military around the globe. Known as the J-3, the post is one of the most important positions in the U.S. military, and in the past has been a stepping stone to four stars and a top command, occupied by people such as Adm. Vern Clark, now the chief of naval operations, and Marine Gen. Peter Pace, now the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs .

In an interview yesterday, Newbold said he never had an ambition to be a four-star general, and simply was tired of the intensity of his post, which he has held since Oct. 10, 2000. "It is a square hole, and I am round peg," he said. It was not a job he sought, he added. "I came here because it was my duty," he said .

Newbold, 53, said he decided several months ago to retire, and has filed papers stating that intention, but is waiting for Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld to approve his request. He would like to retire as a three-star general, even though he has held that rank for less than two years and current law requires three years in that rank to retain it on retirement .

If he could have a more active command, Newbold said, he would be inclined to stick around. He said, for example, that he would much prefer being in Afghanistan, where the ground commander is his former deputy, Army Maj. Gen. Franklin L. "Buster" Hagenbeck. Newbold played a similar role when he commanded the first Marines who landed in Somalia in 1992 .

Newbold achieved prominence again on Oct. 16, when he said at a Pentagon briefing that the Taliban militia then ruling Afghanistan had been "eviscerated" by U.S. bombing. His choice of words was subsequently mocked by Rumsfeld and by Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Newbold stopped appearing at Pentagon briefings .

Word of Newbold's decision has disturbed some officers on the Joint Staff, where he has been a well-liked leader. "It surprised a lot of people," said one general .

Some in the Pentagon speculated that Newbold was fatigued by Rumsfeld's management style, which has been variously described by Pentagon officials as "hands-on," "brutally honest" and even "abusive." "It is a completely different atmosphere from the previous administration, where our opinions weren't challenged," said one officer, who added that he considers the new skepticism to be healthy for the military .

But Newbold rejected that interpretation of his decision, saying he was leaving for two reasons: He owes it to his family, and he thinks it is time to let younger Marine generals move up in the ranks .

Newbold said he realized months ago that he was not inclined to stay in an all-consuming staff job that only would be followed by another move of his family, which would be almost inevitable if he became a four-star officer. "That weighs on me as I contemplate jerking them around to some distant post," he said .

Rumsfeld recently has been picking new generals to fill several of the top slots in the military establishment, such as the chief of the European Command, for which he has tapped Gen. James L. Jones, commandant of the Marine Corps. One person close to Rumsfeld recently listed Newbold as a possible successor for Jones .

Asked what lies next in his life, Newbold said his ideal job would be in the power tools section of a Home Depot store. "I like the aprons," he said. But because his family needs more money than that job pays, he said, he is likely to look at think tanks and corporate jobs .

"I'm looking forward to a job that doesn't have the intensity and lack the quality of life that this one has," he said. "This is a crucible job."