Army and Marines Fight Wars, Navy and Air Force Get Promoted

Of the U.S. military's 10 combatant commands, only three are held by Army or Marine generals.

Jason Sigger updates his COCOM board, listing the officers who command each of the Combatant Commands:

Army – 2, Air Force – 3, Navy – 4, Marines – 1. Ground pounders continue to suck sand, despite the extensive land warfare going on in the Middle East.

It is indeed a bizarre fact that Navy admirals as many COCOMs than the Army and Marine Corps combined, considering that the latter two are manning our nation’s wars.   And the Army’s total is actually inflated by the inclusion of AFRICOM, which is more an experiment than a full-on command.  And Odierno is taking over JFCOM in order to dismantle it!  (Then again, CENTCOM was being run by the Army’s David Petraeus until he had to step down to pick up the mess in Afghanistan.)

Oh, and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff?  A Navy man.

This isn’t a complaint, exactly.   The only non-ground pounder on the list that I’m familiar with is EUCOM’s Stavridis, and he’s awesome.   The others are, I’m reasonably sure, highly competent professionals more than competent to fill their assigned billets.

It’s just odd that the top ranks aren’t dominated by men who have commanded in Iraq and Afghanistan.

FILED UNDER: General
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. ponce says:

    Losing two wars should earn you a promotion?

  2. James Joyner says:

    Well, we’re about to successfully hand over the keys to Iraq to a stable, democratically elected government.   Afghanistan is, well, Afghanistan but al Qaeda is a bloody stump of what it was and the Taliban aren’t running the government.

    In any case, you can’t blame the Army and Marines for being dealt ridiculously difficult missions.

  3. It’s been a long time since I read up on these positions, but I was under the impression that most of them are rotated between the services. I think the rotation varies from post to post, and some posts aren’t rotated between all four services… but I could be just completely remembering it wrong.

  4. MichaelB says:

    What’s surprising to me is that a couple commands have flipped to the Navy.  EUCOM and SOCOM are both traditionally headed by an Army officer.  Several of the commands are traditionally led by officers of a single service over and over again.  Strategic Command for example is almost entirely an Air Force/Navy operation.  Pacific Command is predominantly (and historically) Naval.
    The two wars are both contained within Central Command, which has a Marine in charge.  One possibility: Talented Army and Marine officers may feel a desire to stay in nominally lower ranking positions to be directly involved in prosecuting the war effort.  I can easily see how an Army or Marine officer would prefer to be (say) deputy commander of CENTCOM, or US forces in Iraq/Afghanistan than being promoted to CINC of NORTHCOM or SOUTHCOM.

  5. James Joyner says:

    Russell,
    Historically, several of the posts were essentially slotted.  PACOM was always a Navy post, SOUTHCOM always Army, EUCOM rotated between Army and Air Force.   In recent years, that’s gone by the wayside, with flag officers commanding in places where other services completely dominate.
     
    The CJCS position used to be on an informal rotation but that’s sort of been done away with over the last decade or so.

  6. Jeff says:

    Considering how few flag ranked Marines there are out of the 200,000 manning limit the Marines have, it is actually a good sign they managed 1 slot … 

    I assume that an appointment being filled may sometimes be driven by who is rolling off of another assignment at that point in time …  but these are political assignments as well and Navy and Air Force brass do spend alot of time talking to Congress about funding …  so that face time may have an influence on the choices …

    My impression of the ground pounders I have met (USNA 1980) is that if they ever reached flag rank they would loath being a desk jockey as most of these position are.  Not saying they would not shine in the posts but I’m not sure they would ever lobby too hard either.

  7. Will says:

    It’s a coincidence. Would you prefer a quota system, where we can only select flag officers such that each service is equally represented? Or would you prefer that we only promote officers who have served where shots are currently being fired?
    Yes, the counterinsurgency ops in Iraq and Afghanistan are the biggest thing we’ve got on the plate at the moment, but our armed services do a lot more for us than that. If promote guys based on their proximity to shots being fired, we’re basically saying COIN is the only business we’re in, and the only business we need to be in. It’s the old adage that the military is always preparing for the previous war.

  8. Thanks for the clarification, James. I wasn’t quite right, but at least I don’t feel like a total idiot. 😉

  9. ponce says:

    “Well, we’re about to successfully hand over the keys to Iraq to a stable, democratically elected government.  ”
    Which government is that?
    The Iranian government?
     

  10. Andy says:

    It’s just odd that the top ranks aren’t dominated by men who have commanded in Iraq and Afghanistan.

     
    It’s not odd at all when you look at the names.  Franks?  Sanchez? Casey? McNeill? McKiernan?

  11. tdd says:

    Well, we’re about to successfully hand over the keys to Iraq to a stable, democratically elected government.

    Iraq formed a government, you should do a post on that.  The major news services have missed it.
    13 Iraqis were killed by bombs today and more were wounded.  Is there a new definition of stable that I am not familiar with.

  12. James Joyner says:

    13 Iraqis were killed by bombs today and more were wounded.  Is there a new definition of stable that I am not familiar with.

    By your definition, Israel and India don’t have stable governments. Or, the UK circa 1985.

  13. ponce says:

    By your definition, Israel and India don’t have stable governments.
    Israel and India are being run by American puppets who refuse to step down from power even though they lost their elections, too?
     
    Or are you seriously suggesting Israel and India had weeks like this:
    * Wednesday: 21 Iraqis Killed, 9 Wounded
    * Tuesday: 9 Iraqis Killed, 40 Wounded
    * Monday: 7 Iraqis Killed, 34 Wounded
    * Sunday: 40 Iraqis, 1 US Soldier Killed; 109 Iraqis Wounded
    * Saturday: 66 Iraqis Killed, 237 Wounded
    * Friday: 7 Iraqis Killed, 29 Wounded
    * Thursday: 15 Iraqis Killed, 16 Wounded

  14. mpw280 says:

    Hey Ponce looked at Chicago’s murder rate lately, we give Iraq a run for the money. So are you saying Little Big Man is a failed leader and the state of Illinois is a failed government and by association that Obama is a failed leader and the US government is a failed government? Just wondering.   mpw

  15. ponce says:

    ” we give Iraq a run for the mone”
    America has 12 times the population of Iraq.
     
    So that’s the equivalent of 1980 Americans killed and 5688 Americans wounded in political violence in the past week.  In a week.  That’s “stable” to James I guess…
     
    “So are you saying Little Big Man is a failed leader”
     
    Nope, if you haven’t been keeping up…Obama will have completed our cut and run from Iraq in a couple weeks.
     
    That’s leadership I can get behind.
     
     
     
     

  16. sam says:

    Considering how few flag ranked Marines there are out of the 200,000 manning limit the Marines have, it is actually a good sign they managed 1 slot …


    I think the mission vision integration of the armed forces has a lot to do with that. At the beginning of the Vietnam war, there were profound differences between the Marines and the Army about how to fight that war. The Marines were commanded by officers for whom the Small Wars Manual was a living document, and the Banana Wars not that distant a memory. They lost the argument, for the most part, to the Army (well, to Westmoreland), and we fought a war of large unit maneuver. I say for the most part because the Marines still pursued their CAP strategy in places, and the Army Special Forces pursued their version in places. After Vietnam, though, it was clear that some deep rethinking was needed. COIN, which owes much to some of the ideas expressed in the Small Wars Manual (still current, btw, with a 2004 addendum), was the result. With the Army and Marines now pretty much on the same page small wars-wise, the ascension of a Marine to CENTCOM is not surprising. Though it certainly would be shocking to Marine generals of the WWII era.


  17. mpw280 says:

    Ponce, don’t read the post much do you, Chicago had the murders and its smaller than Iraq and Little Big Man is no guns Mayor Daley.
    The last bit:
    That’s leadership I can get behind.

    Figure that is pretty much where you as a liberal will always be, behind someone else.  Running away isn’t leadership, nor is leaving before the job is done, in fact is shows just the opposite.
    mpw