The White House will tap the head of U.S. Fleet Forces command to serve as the next Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, filling a key leadership vacancy that had raised concerns in recent weeks.
Navy Adm. Christopher Grady, who has served in the Fleet Forces role for the last three years, would replace retiring Vice Chairman Air Force Gen. John Hyten. Hyten’s term is set to end just before Thanksgiving.
Grady likely cannot be confirmed to replace Hyten by then, given the background reviews and hearings needed to be scheduled before a Senate vote.
But the nomination, quietly inserted in the Senate calendar on Monday, potentially minimizes the time that one of the military’s top leadership spots will be vacant.
Lawmakers in recent weeks has lamented the lack of an official nominee from White House officials for the Vice Chairman post.
On Tuesday, Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska and a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, called the delay a “dereliction of duty” by President Joe Biden in maintaining military readiness. He called the leadership gap unnecessary, since Grady’s pending nomination had been rumored for months.
Arnold Punaro, a former Senate Armed Services Committee staff director and retired Marine Corps major general, said that while the nomination is sorely overdue, there still could be time for the Senate to expedite his review and confirm him before Hyten’s term expires in less than three weeks.
“The Senate can certainly do things fast when they want to,” Punaro said in an interview Tuesday. “They’re going to do everything they possibly can to get it through the committee [and] have a thorough, objective hearing. They’ll get him his advance policy questions. He’ll have a chance to meet with members. … And then it’s up to the two leaders, [Senate Majority Leader Chuck] Schumer and [Senate Minority Leader Mitch] McConnell to push it through the Senate.”
Punaro said Grady should be easily confirmed, and he doubted any senator might put a hold or otherwise object to filling such a crucial, high-ranking position.
But the possibility still exists that Hyten could depart Nov. 21 without Grady in place to succeed him. The Pentagon has been making plans in recent weeks for lower-ranking general or flag officers on the Joint Staff to fill in for Hyten during the interim period, if that happens.
That would leave the Defense Management Council, which helps make major budgetary decisions, temporarily without a four-star co-chair, among other gaps, Punaro said.
And it would leave the Joint Chiefs of Staff without a critical member if a crisis were to unexpectedly unfold, he said.
“Anything can happen in the dangerous and unpredictable world we live in, and you want to have all members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff available,” Punaro said. “No matter what anybody says, there’s a big difference between a four-star confirmed military member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and other lower-ranking representatives that aren’t confirmed to that position.”
Grady, 58, was viewed as the likely successor to Hyten. He has served as a naval officer for the last 37 years, including a number of leadership roles within the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
He previously served as commander of the U.S. 6th Fleet and the deputy commander of both U.S. Naval Forces Europe and U.S. Naval Forces Africa. He is a graduate of both the University of Notre Dame and Georgetown University.
The White House did not respond to a request for comment.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.
Stephen Losey is the air warfare reporter for Defense News. He previously covered leadership and personnel issues at Air Force Times, and the Pentagon, special operations and air warfare at Military.com. He has traveled to the Middle East to cover U.S. Air Force operations.