Gen. Milley Takes Over As Top Pentagon Officer, Trump Credits Gen. Dunford With Helping Him Decide to Run

U.S. Army Gen. Mark A. Milley, at his Senate Armed Services Committee confirmation hearing to become the Chief of Staff of the Army on Capitol Hill. On September 30, 2019, Milley was sworn in as the highest ranking officer in the country when he replaced U.S. Marine Gen. Joseph F. Dunford as the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Mark Wilson/Getty

It was 3 a.m. back in October 2004 when a cadre of U.S. Army soldiers gathered in a conference room at the large military installation at Camp Liberty, located in Baghdad, Iraq.

Private First Class Matthew McLaughlin, a soldier assigned to the 10th Mountain Division's public affairs section records the gravity of the occasion and notes the seriousness among the group in attendance.

"While these soldiers' battle scars may not be transparent, rest assured the war they wage has taken its toll emotionally," wrote McLaughlin. "Despite apparently insurmountable obstacles and a history of pain and suffering, they continue to believe in their common cause."

The "why" behind why these men had assembled at such an inconvenient hour was no mystery as the reasons were on full display on the hats and patches donned by these men. Game 2 of the World Series between the Boston Red Sox and the St. Louis Cardinals was about to be waged.

Seated at the head of the conference room table with hawk-like eyes is then-Colonel Mark A. Milley of Winchester, Massachusetts. He sported desert fatigues and breaks Army regulations by wearing a Red Sox baseball cap in uniform.

"It makes me miserable if they lose," he told McLaughlin. "My staff has an easy day when the Red Sox win. They breathe a sigh of relief when they win." The year prior, Milley had watched from Afghanistan the Red Sox fall to the New York Yankees in Game 7 of the American League Championship Series. "It crushed me," said Milley.

Then-U.S. Army Colonel Mark. A. Milley, watches Game 2 of the World Series between the Boston Red Sox and the St. Louis Cardinals from a conference room in Baghdad, Iraq at 3 a.m. in the morning. Milley was sworn in as the highest-ranking military officer in the country on September 30, 2019 when he replaced outgoing U.S. Marine General Joseph F. Dunford as the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Pfc. Matthew McLaughlin/U.S. Army

In the coming days back in October 2004, Milley would see the end of the so-called "Curse of the Bambino" when the Red Sox triumphed over the Cardinals for their first World Series win since 1918—ending an 86-year drought.

Fifteen years later on Sunday, a tweet from the Red Sox's shows support for its fans after their season ended early in frustration after they failed to secure a place in the playoffs.

But unlike the Boston ballclub, both the Iraq and Afghanistan wars—and engagements in five other countries—seem likely to continue into October, as Milley, the former colonel now four-star general, was sworn in as the highest-ranking military officer in the country on Monday.

President Donald Trump oversaw the ceremony for Milley at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall in Virginia and watched as the change of command between Milley and outgoing Marine General Joseph F. Dunford was completed before a host of military formations from each branch of service.

Trump thanked Dunford for his service and helping him to decide to run for president during a 2015 dinner at the 20th annual Semper Fidelis Gala in New York.

"In—I would say, 2015—I sat with Joe at a dinner; and believe it or not, I was getting a big award from the Marines. Joe was presenting the awards and I had not even thought of running for president," Trump said. "I said to my wife and family: 'Look at that guy. He's a great looking guy, isn't he? It's like central casting. He's like right out of Hollywood.'"

Trump said Dunford helped him form an opinion on rebuilding the military and asked if he should run. This is the first time Trump has mentioned Dunford being an influence on his decision to run for the presidency.

Dunford will retire from the U.S. military this month after 42-years of service.

John Mack, left, Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., second left, and Steven Wallace, right, the Co-founder of Marine Corps-Law Enforcement Foundation (MC-LEF), award Donald J. Trump during the MC-LEF 20th Annual Semper Fidelis Gala at New York, N.Y., April 22, 2015. Trump was a recipient of the Commandant's Leadership award at the event. Sgt. Gabriela Garcia/U.S. Marine Corps

"With the complex challenges of the international environment, the United States Armed Forces stand ready," said Milley. "We stand ready to keep the peace or, if necessary, win the war. We are the best equipped, best trained, best led military in human history, and our adversaries should know never to underestimate our skill, our capability and our combat power."

Milley was confirmed for the top position by the Senate back in July after Trump nominated the Princeton University alum who also holds a master's degree in international relations from Columbia University in December 2018.

Milley told Trump during his speech on Monday that he would "always provide...informed, candid, impartial military advice." During his confirmation hearing, the Independent Senator Angus King of Maine asked the general whether he would be "intimidated" by the president. "Absolutely not. By no one. Ever," said Milley

"I'll give my best military advice. It'll be candid. It'll be honest. It'll be rigorous and it'll be thorough," he said. "We are not going to be intimidated into making stupid decisions. We will give our best military advice regardless of consequences to ourself."

In the same hearing, Senator Tom Cotton, the Republican from Arkansas and a former Army captain, questioned Milley about the military's policy on following orders.

"When the decision-maker makes a decision, it's our job to execute," Milley said, even if he considers the order "ill-advised."

Cotton said Defense Department policy directs enlisted personnel to follow all orders while officers can disobey those they consider illegal but Milley pushed back on the distinction between rank categories.

"Frankly, I would expect any soldier, sailor, airman, Marine regardless of rank not to obey an illegal, immoral, or unethical order, even at the risk of their own life," Milley told Cotton. "It's the Nuremberg standard. You can't hide behind 'I was ordered to do it.'"

A veteran of multiple deployments to Afghanistan and Iraq, Milley served in the 82nd Airborne Division and the 10th Mountain Division.

Snapshots of his career in news articles see him as an Army major in Haiti in 1994 when President Bill Clinton launched an invasion force of 25,000 military personnel to remove the military coup installed after Lieutenant General Raoul Cedras overthrew the government of Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

Another vignette from 1997 shows Milley stationed in Korea at the rank of lieutenant colonel. He told U.S. News & World Report that, "We're ready to blast [North Korean leader] Kim Jong Il and his Communist heathens back into the Stone Age."

Descriptions of Milley can be boiled down to him being a solid tactician with curt honesty—in both the U.S. military and Washington politics. But the general assumes the reins of the Pentagon at a time when U.S. forces are still fighting in America's longest war—Afghanistan—and six other countries around the globe—troops are even stationed at the U.S.-Mexico border.

But the next war the Pentagon may have to wrestle with is the one consuming the D.C. beltway at the moment as the Pentagon may be roped into the House's impeachment inquiry into Trump since military aid to Ukraine is the catalyst that sparked the investigation.