The changes will, among other things, for the first time put a Marine in charge of U.S. military operations in Europe and Africa, officials said.
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld has worked for months on filling the top command slots, which involve the chiefs of U.S. forces in every region of the world except the Pacific, as well as the heads of two of the four armed services. He has said he expects the moves to be among his most significant acts at the Pentagon.
For two of the most important positions -- the top military job in Europe and the new head of the Army -- Rumsfeld has selected people who stand out among the current top brass as unconventional thinkers who are likely to be supportive of his drive to "transform" the military to better address terrorism and other new challenges.
The changes come as part of the normal rotation of the top slots in the military. But Rumsfeld's decision to package them together is a marked departure from the usual practice of filling the jobs in a piecemeal fashion and underscores his goal of bringing radical change to the military when it is waging a global war on terrorism.
Rumsfeld has not disclosed to aides how and when he plans to officially announce the nominations. But by reaching his decisions, discussing them broadly within the administration and securing the president's approval, Rumsfeld has effectively made lame ducks of current holders of the positions.
In the most significant move, Gen. James Jones, the Marine commandant, is slated to become Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, a position once held by Dwight D. Eisenhower and currently occupied by Air Force Gen. Joseph Ralston. Jones was picked, said a senior defense official, because "he dared to be different."
The selection of Jones is not expected to be announced for several months and, like the other positions, requires congressional approval. His nomination is unusual for three reasons. It will be the first time a Marine has held the position. It will be the first time a Marine commandant has moved on to another top job in the U.S. military. And it will be the first time that the U.S. military commander in Europe will be someone born there. Jones was born in Paris and "spent his formative years" there, according to his official biography.
By picking a general from the Marines, the service most comfortable with being "expeditionary" -- that is, being able to deploy quickly to Third World hot spots and engage in a variety of missions, from full-scale combat to peacekeeping -- Rumsfeld also may be seeking to shake up the U.S. military in Europe. There are few Marines based in Europe, but there are several major Army headquarters there, and Pentagon officials have hinted that those offices will be cut or abolished in the coming years.
It could not be learned whether Rumsfeld has picked Jones's successor as head of the Marine Corps.
In another unusual move, Rumsfeld has tapped Army Gen. John Keane, the No. 2 officer in the Army, to succeed the current chief of that service, Gen. Eric Shinseki, whose term runs out next year. Selecting a successor for the current chief so far in advance is highly unusual.
Popular in the Army, Keane, a career infantry officer who once commanded the 101st Airborne Division, nearly was selected for the job in 1999 by Defense Secretary William S. Cohen. But Cohen passed him over out of concern that picking someone who was then a relatively junior general, with just three stars, would be a slap in the face of the Army's four-star officers and might unnecessarily disturb a service already troubled by its sideshow role in the war in the Yugoslav province of Kosovo.
Rumsfeld also has picked Army Lt. Gen. James "Tom" Hill to become the new chief of the Southern Command, which oversees U.S. military operations in South and Central America. That move has not been approved by the White House, officials said. Among top commands, the Southern Command slot is considered a relative backwater, most important for its command of the U.S. anti-drug effort. But it could become more significant if the aging of Fidel Castro brings political turnover or instability to Cuba, or if U.S. military operations expand in Colombia.
In moves that have been expected, Army Gen. Tommy R. Franks, who is overseeing the war in Afghanistan as head of the Central Command, is being retained in that position. And Air Force Gen. Ralph Eberhart, head of the North American Aerospace Defense Command, has been chosen to run the new Northern Command, which is being created to take responsibility for homeland defense.
Keane and Jones are veterans of the Vietnam War. Keane was a platoon leader and company commander in Vietnam with the 101st Airborne Division, and he received the Silver Star. Jones served there as a platoon and company commander with Company G of the 2nd Battalion of the 3rd Marines.
Picking Jones to be the top U.S. military officer in Europe may be a way for Rumsfeld to signal to the Army that he wants it to be more innovative. The Army traditionally has held the top slot in Europe and had hoped to regain it after the expiration of the term of Ralston, an Air Force officer. Ralston took office in May 2000 and is expected to step down around year's end.
Rumsfeld aides have privately expressed surprise at what they say is a lack of fresh thinking in the Army. Partly for that reason, Rumsfeld decided he could not afford to place Keane, whom he considers innovative, in a top regional command. He instead needed to position him to take over running the Army.
But winning the European job may prove to be a mixed blessing for Jones and the Marine Corps. It has long been considered a difficult job, requiring its holder to straddle U.S. and European defense concerns. Many worry that those concerns are drifting apart, with the United States developing unique military abilities in precision warfare that the European militaries cannot match.
The U.S. commander in Europe also sometimes clashes with the Pentagon. Most notably, during the 1999 Kosovo campaign, Army Gen. Wesley K. Clark fought bitterly with Cohen. Less than three months after the United States won that war, Clark was unceremoniously dumped by Cohen and replaced by Ralston.
But Jones's background appears to have prepared him for the tightrope nature of the European command. Jones, who is a close friend of Cohen, is savvy in the ways of Washington.
Contrary to the knuckle-dragging image some Marines like to cultivate, Jones has shown a bent for diplomacy from an early age. He is fluent in French and graduated in 1966 from Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service.