In a Rose Garden ceremony where he took no questions, Obama urged the Senate to confirm Dempsey, Winnefeld and Odierno "as soon as possible."
Dempsey was confirmed only last month as Army chief of staff, his elevation to chairman of the Joint Chiefs a recognition of his ability to work well within the Pentagon bureaucracy and win the trust of those closest to Obama and his national security team. Marine Gen. James Cartwright was once thought the top contender to replace current Joint Chiefs Chairman, Adm. Mike Mullen. Mullen's term expires in September.
"Marty, your tenure as chief may go down as one of the shortest in army history," Obama said in the bright morning sun as Dempsey stood alongside on the Rose Garden stairs. "But it is your lifetime of accomplishment that brings us here today."
Dempsey is an infantry officer who once commanded the Army's storied 1st Armored Division, Old Ironsides, early in the Iraq War. He later held security and training commands in Iraq. Before he was nominated to be chief of staff in April, he was the military's training and doctrine chief.
Ironically, Dempsey will be first Army chief to hold the job since 2001, following an Air Force general, a Marine general, and a Navy admiral. Dempsey is a close friend of Gen. David Petraeus, the mastermind of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, who has been nominated to take over the Central Intelligence Agency. Dempsey will take over at a time when the President's military priorities are about curtailment - a withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan, budget cuts across all the branches, and the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell."
Of Mullen, Obama said: "Like President Bush before me, I have deeply valued Mike's professional steadiness and his personal integrity." Obama said history will also remember Mullen "as the chairman who said what he believed was right and declared no one in uniform should ever have to sacrifice their integrity to serve their county." This was a nod to Mullen's important role in moving the Pentagon to end the Clinton-era policy of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" regarding the ability of gays to serve openly in the armed services.
Obama called Dempsey "one of our nation's most respected and battle-tested generals," adding that Dempsey's pivotal role in counter-insurgency operations in Iraq and subsequent training of Iraqi Army and police means he "knows nations must ultimately take responsibility for their own security." Though his tenure as Army Chief of Staff was brief, Obama sought to quote Dempsey on his first day in that role: "We will provide whatever it takes to achieve our objectives in the current fight."
Obama praised Winnefeld for a career of Navy leadership and singled out his decision on 9/11 as his carrier group, the USS Enterprise, was steaming back home from a six-month Persian Gulf deployment. "Rather than wait for orders," Obama said. "Sandy took the initiative, reversed course and put his ship and aircraft within range of Afghanistan by the next morning -- setting the stage for the strikes that followed. " Winnefeld's aircraft flew more than 700 missions over Afghanistan.
Obama called Odierno "one the army's most accomplished soldiers" and cited what he described as three "pivotal deployments in Iraq." Under Odierno's various commands, U.S. forces captured Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein in 2003 from a spider hole near a farm in Tikrit, in northern Iraq; led counter-insurgency forces during the 2007 surge; and transferred responsibility for security to Iraqi forces and oversaw the formal end of U.S. combat operations there. "Ray understands what the Army must do to prevail," Obama said.
All three nominees, Obama said, have the respect "of our friends in Congress." If confirmed, Dempsey, Winnefeld and Odierno will join former CIA Director Leon Panetta, whom Obama recently nominated as Secretary of Defense to succeed Robert Gates. Obama also nominated Army Gen. David Petraeus, currently commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan and the former head of Central Command, to lead the CIA.