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Joint Chiefs Nominee Getting Wide Support Army Gen. Shelton Beat Out More Well-Known Candidates

Army Gen. Henry Shelton, President Clinton’s choice to chair the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is a nontraditional warrior experienced in combatting the terrorist threats and other “operations short of war” challenging U.S. security.

Clinton was expected to make the choice of his top military adviser public today. Officials confirmed the selection Wednesday after Shelton met with Clinton and Defense Secretary William Cohen at the White House and later huddled alone with the president. Senate confirmation will be required.

“I haven’t gotten any official word, but I understand that’s the case,” Sen. Strom Thurmond, R-S.C., chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said of Clinton’s choice of Shelton. “He’s a good man,” Thurmond said, and, asked if he expected the general’s Senate confirmation to go smoothly, Thurmond said, “I think so.”

Shelton, 55, a craggy-faced, 6-foot-5 general, heads the Special Operations Command, based in Florida.

Little known outside military circles, he has won praise among his peers for deftly managing the 1994 U.S. military operation in Haiti, which switched at the last minute from a combat-style invasion to a less hostile troop move. He was a commander of helicopter forces in Desert Storm and in special forces - once dubbed “Green Berets” - in Vietnam.

Shelton is a nontraditional choice for the chairman. With a background in the Army’s “light” infantry and multi-service Special Operations units, he is unlike the tankers, jet fliers or ship drivers who have served as Joint Chiefs chairmen in the past.

Instead, he is the four-star commander of elite troops who hail from the Army, Navy and Air Force. Designed to operate without fanfare, they respond to a variety of nonconventional threats - terrorism, insurgencies, sabotage - and work with foreign militaries and local populations in coordination with heavier forces.

Shelton said of his troops in a recent article published by the Pentagon, “They serve in the shadows against elusive foes and targets, in extremely harsh, as well as permissive environments … and increasingly in the high-tech realm of cyberspace.”

He noted that his troops “are not designed to win wars single-handedly, but they can help prevent and deter them.” For the next decade, the nation can expect “operations short of war” to dominate the nation’s security concerns, he added, perhaps in an indication of where he will help steer the military.

He beat out several other candidates for the post, including NATO Commander Wesley Clark, Marine Corps Commandant Charles Krulak and Army Chief of Staff Dennis Reimer. He would succeed the current chairman, Gen. John Shalikashvili, who is slated to retire at the end of September.

Air Force Gen. Joseph Ralston had been the front-runner for the top post until reports surfaced of an extramarital affair he had had several years ago.

Tags: biography