President Barack Obama on Tuesday nominated Gen. Paul J. Selva of Scott Air Force Base to be the next vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Selva, who has clocked more than 3,100 hours piloting transport and refueling aircraft, is currently the head of U.S. Transportation Command at Scott Air Force Base.
Selva, 57, must still survive a Senate hearing and then confirmation by the senators. But U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., is already assuming that Selva will face a smooth confirmation process.
On Tuesday morning, Durbin sent out a congratulatory message on the social media service Twitter, applauding both Scott Air Force Base, U.S. Transcom and Selva “on his well-deserved promotion to vice chair of Joint Chiefs of Staff.”
Durbin, the Senate’s No. 2 leader and vice-chairman of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, expanded on his earlier comment, saying in a written statement that during his tenure at Scott, Selva “has distinguished himself as a strong, capable leader. Although we will miss having him in Illinois, I look forward to working with General Selva in his new role here in Washington, D.C.”
Ellen Krohne, executive director of the Leadership Council Southwestern Illinois, has worked directly with Selva on issues related to improving the quality of life at Scott and helping bolster Scott’s military mission.
Krohne described Selva as “brilliant” and “very innovative” and a “big picture thinker.”
During their interactions over the years, “I was very impressed by his ability to see all around an issue and look strategically at the thing we were asking about,” she said. “He knows Scott well. And that will be good for the region, too.”
The announcement of Selva’s new job comes exactly one year after the change-of-command ceremony at Scott on May 5, 2014, when Selva formally took command of the U.S. Transportation Command. Before that promotion, Selva spent less than two years as the leader of the Air Force’s Air Mobility Command, preceded by a year as vice commander of the Pacific Air Forces.
Obama also nominated Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford Jr. to serve as the next chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, choosing a widely respected, combat-hardened commander who led the Afghanistan war coalition during a key transitional period, 2013-14. The move cuts short Dunford’s service as the commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps, a job he began last October. But the rapid promotion is one of several that have marked Dunford’s fast-tracked military career, which saw him leap from a one-star general to four stars in about three years.
Dunford is viewed as a highly experienced battlefield commander with strong ties in the international community, especially the Far East, which is the focus of the Obama White House in seeking to counter China’s burgeoning military muscle and growing assertiveness in the region.
Obama made the announcement of both nominations at the White House Tuesday. Dunford is expected to be easily confirmed by the U.S. Senate.
Dunford’s selection signals that even as the United States puts more focus on Asia and looks ahead to high-tech cyber and space threats, the administration still believes a strong ground force commander is needed to work through the ongoing conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria and across the Middle East and Africa.
Obama emphasized Dunford’s role in moving the country to the end of combat operations in Afghanistan.
“Under his steady hand we’ve achieved key milestones, including the transition to Afghan responsibility for security, historic Afghan elections and the draw-down of U.S. forces,” Obama said.
The choice of Selva for the No. 2 spot on the Joint Chiefs is seen as a nod to the growing importance of the Air Force’s role in meeting military needs over the next 50 years, an era that will be defined by greater reliance on weaponized drones, satellites, advanced bombers and other sophisticated weapons.
Selva is a 1980 graduate of the Air Force Academy, in Colorado Springs, Colo., where he earned a bachelors of science degree in aeronautical engineering.
During his 35-year career, Selva has carved out a reputation as a champion for air mobility forces. He earned high marks for helping coordinate the American military’s response to the Ebola crisis in western Africa in the autumn of 2014. In late January, Selva presided over the unveiling at Scott of a new module system for air cargo planes evacuating multiple patients with infectious diseases such as Ebola or Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome.
Selva, during the Jan. 23 press event, called the Transport Isolation System “a collaborative effort from the time we said go.”
Selva later told Congress that mobility airmen need a rest from non-stop operations in Afghanistan, fighting the Islamic State group and helping to contain the Ebola outbreak.
Selva has criticized the impact of Congressional budget-cutting on Air Force operations, especially the mechanism called sequestration that automatically cut big chunks from the Defense Department budget. Selva warned before the cuts took effect that slashing the defense budget would make it more difficult for mobility airmen to do their jobs.
Selva has deep ties to Scott Air Force Base. He commanded the Air Mobility Command, a component unit of Transcom, from November 2012 to May 2014. From June 2002 to June 2003, he served as vice-commander of the Tanker Airlift Control Center, and then as unit commander from June 2003 to November 2004. He left that job to serve as Transcom’s operations director, a position he filled from December 2004 to August 2006.
Dunford is expected to be easily confirmed by the U.S. Senate and would succeed Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, who will have served four years as chairman.
Dunford began his career as an infantry officer and has commanded at all levels. He served nearly two years in Iraq, including as head of the Marines’ 5th Regimental Combat Team during the 2003 invasion, where he earned the nickname “Fighting Joe.”
Half of the military’s 18 chairmen of the Joint Chiefs have been Army officers, including Dempsey, who has held the post for nearly four years. Four have been admirals and four have been Air Force generals, according to the Washington Post newspaper.
Not all has gone smoothly for Selva during his tenure as Transcom commander. Almost as soon as he took over U.S. Transcom, he’s had to face a tsunami of complaints about a company called International Auto Logistics, LLC, which on May 1, 2014, began a five-year, nearly $1 billion contract to ship service members’ privately owned vehicles to overseas duty stations and back.
The complaints led Selva to take a number of extraordinary steps to fix IAL’s problems, including the creation of a special “fusion” team last August consisting of logistics and supply chain experts to untangle logjams in the shipping process and locate cars that had gone missing for weeks or even months past their promised delivery dates. Both Transcom and IAL blamed the delays in large part on the fact that IAL took over the contract at the start of the peak shipping season after a series of delays related to legal action brought by the previous contractor.
IAL’s problems have led Selva to meet with top Congressional leaders, including Sen. Durbin, to answer tough questions about the causes behind IAL’s woes and to discuss corrective action plans.
Since February, when IAL executives discussed their corrective action plan with Selva and other top Transcom commanders, the percentage of on-time deliveries has improved dramatically. And whereas hundreds of customer complaints were filed with U.S. Transcom’s inspector general last year because of IAL-related problems, none have been filed since January, the News-Democrat has reported.
Marcus Weisgerber, a columnist for the defense-business blog Defense One, pointed out that it was unusual for Obama to nominate a cargo and aerial tanker pilot such as Selva for a job that the Air Force has historically recommended be filled by fighter and bomber pilots.
Selva also served as senior military adviser from 2008 to 2011 for ex-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton when Selva was the assistant to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
“Pentagon insiders have long said Selva would be a likely candidate for the chairman’s job if Clinton is elected president in 2016,” Weisgerber wrote.
The Associated Press contributed information to this story.