Senate hearings today for Trump’s nominees to head top MacDill commands

Marine Lt. Gen. Kenneth McKenzie Jr. would lead Central Command while Army Lt. Gen. Richard Clarke would run Special Operations Command.
Published December 4 2018
Updated December 4 2018

TAMPA — Changes in leadership are coming to MacDill Air Force Base and the next step in the process takes place in Washington on Tuesday morning.

That’s when the Senate Armed Services Committee is scheduled to hold confirmation hearings for two men nominated to receive a fourth star and head major commands headquartered at MacDill.

President Donald Trump has nominated Marine Lt. Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr. to lead U.S. Central Command and Army Lt. Gen. Richard D. Clarke to run U.S. Special Operations Command.

Central Command oversees U.S. military operations in the Middle East along with Southwest and Central Asia. Special Operations Command synchronizes the global war on terror and is responsible for providing fully trained and equipped commando forces — Navy SEALs and special boat crews, Army Green Berets, Rangers and Delta Force, Marine Raiders and Air Force special operators.

If confirmed, McKenzie will replace Army Gen. Joseph Votel and Clarke would replace Army Gen. Raymond A. “Tony” Thomas III. Both generals are expected to retire after relinquishing command.

McKenzie and Clarke are currently serving on the Joint Chiefs of Staff and it is widely expected each will be easily confirmed.

McKenzie is director of the joint staff and previously served as the joint staff director of strategic plans and policy from October 2015 to July 2017.

McKenzie would be the first Marine to lead Central Command since retired Gen. James Mattis, who is now Trump’s secretary of defense. If confirmed, this will be McKenzie’s third stint at MacDill.

In July 2010, he was assigned to the base as head of Central Command’s directorate of strategy, plans and policy, and in June 2014, he received his third star and assumed command of U.S. Marine Corps Forces, Central Command.

He has commanded at the platoon, company, battalion, Marine Expeditionary Unit and component levels and has served in Afghanistan and Iraq.

“I think Lt. Gen. McKenzie is an ideal replacement for General Votel,” said Mike Jones, a retired Army major general who served as Central Command chief of staff from 2010 to 2011. “They are some big shoes to fill, but if anyone can do it, it’s Frank.”

Jones pointed to McKenzie’s well-rounded resume.

McKenzie “understands war fighting from the ground infantryman to the strategic level, and knows the Central Command theater as well as anyone alive,” Jones said. “He is a straight shooter, articulate, well informed, and has the moral courage to offer his candid thoughts at the highest levels of government.”

Clarke, if confirmed, would represent a change from the most recent Special Operations Command leaders. The past two, Votel and Thomas, were promoted after leading Joint Special Operations Command. Clarke currently serves as director for strategic plans and policy with the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Clarke has led soldiers at all levels in airborne, ranger, mechanized and light infantry units in five different divisions. His most recent assignments include director of operations in the Joint Special Operations Command from 2009 to 2011; deputy commanding general for operations with the 10th Mountain Division 2011 to 2013; commandant of cadets with the U.S. Military Academy at West Point from 2013 to 2014; and commander of the 82nd Airborne Division. Like McKenzie, he has led troops in Afghanistan and Iraq and led operations against the so-called Islamic State.

Clarke “brings a great blended Army and Special Operations Forces background” to the job, said retired Army Lt. Gen. Frank Kearney, noting Clarke would be one of the few Special Operations Command leaders who also commanded an Army division.

“Clarke is also coming right from the joint staff … with great insights as to where the secretary of defense and chairman see Special Operations Forces fitting into the future…

“He has great interpersonal and leadership skills and he is a listener. He will be another great Special Operations Command commander.”

The confirmation hearings are scheduled to begin at 9:30 a.m.

Contact Howard Altman at [email protected] or (813) 225-3112. Follow @haltman