General withdraws Pacific Command bid

Attempt blocked by Sen. McCain

By Otto Kreisher

October 8, 2004

WASHINGTON – Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's tradition-defying attempt to put an Air Force general in charge of the naval-dominated U.S. Pacific Command has fallen victim to an ugly battle over a scandal-plagued aircraft contract.

Air Force Gen. Gregory S. "Speedy" Martin withdrew his nomination Wednesday to become Pacific commander after a senior Republican member of the Senate Armed Services Committee threatened to block it because of the lawmaker's fight with the Air Force over its troubled attempt to replace the aged fleet of KC-135 airborne tankers.

The threat by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who has led the fight against the Air Force's effort to turn 100 Boeing 767 jetliners into aerial refuelers, was backed by Sen. John Warner, R-Va., the committee chairman.

Pentagon officials said Martin asked to withdraw his name after being told he would not be confirmed.

In an effort to get the new tankers faster than the normal procurement process would allow – and to help Boeing get past a steep slump in commercial airliner sales – the Air Force last year negotiated a deal to lease the Boeing jets.

But McCain and others attacked it as overly expensive and a violation of defense acquisition rules.

Investigations into the contract revealed that Darleen Druyun, a former top Air Force procurement official, had given Boeing favorable terms in the tanker deal and perhaps other contracts in exchange for a lucrative job with the aerospace giant.

Druyun was sentenced to nine months in prison, and the tanker deal has been blocked.

Although Martin is commander of the Air Force Materiel Command, which manages acquisition activities, there is no evidence that he had any part in, or even knew of, Druyun's illegal dealings with Boeing.

He took over the Materiel Command last summer, after the tanker deal had been completed.

But McCain told Martin at Martin's confirmation hearing late Wednesday that he would not allow his nomination out of the Armed Services panel until the Air Force supplied documents that McCain insists they are withholding.

Previously, the Bush administration had refused to provide some Air Force e-mails sought by McCain on grounds that they are internal communications not subject to congressional review.

If he had become Pacific commander, Martin would have broken a line of 20 Navy officers who have held the Pearl Harbor-based command since Adm. Chester Nimitz.

Choosing an Air Force officer instead of the traditional Navy admiral was part of Rumsfeld's effort to shake up the armed forces and to inject new thinking into the organizations.

He earlier had selected Marine Gen. James Jones as the Supreme Allied Commander and head of the U.S. European Command, breaking a 50-year domination by Army officers, and Marine Gen. James E. Cartwright to lead the Strategic Command, which has rotated between Air Force and Navy officers.

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