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American Forces Press Service

Gates Accepts Resignation of CENTCOM Chief Fallon

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 11, 2008 – Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates today reluctantly accepted Navy Adm. William J. “Fox” Fallon’s letter of resignation as commander of U.S. Central Command and request for retirement. Fallon’s resignation will take effect March 31, Gates said in a Pentagon news conference.

His deputy, Army Lt. Gen. Martin Dempsey, will take over as acting CENTCOM commander until a permanent replacement is nominated and confirmed.

Gates told reporters Fallon advised him of his decision this morning, citing what the admiral called “the current embarrassing situation of public perception of differences between my views and administration policy and the distraction this causes from the mission.”

"Recent press reports suggesting a disconnect between my views and the president's policy objectives have become a distraction at a critical time and hamper efforts in the CENTCOM region,” Fallon said in a statement released by CENTCOM. “And although I don't believe there have ever been any differences about the objectives of our policy in the Central Command area of responsibility, the simple perception that there is makes it difficult for me to effectively serve America's interests there.”

Fallon said this disconnect led him to conclude “that it would be best to step aside and allow the secretary and our military leaders to move beyond this distraction ... and focus on the achievement of our strategic objectives in the region.”

Gates said Fallon reached this difficult decision entirely on his own and that he had approved it “with reluctance and regret.”

The secretary said he informed President Bush of Fallon’s decision and his plan to accept it earlier today. “The president has made clear all along that these matters are to be handled strictly within the Department of Defense,” he said.

“I believe it was the right thing to do, even though I do not believe there are, in fact, significant differences between his views and administration policy,” he said.

Some of the misperceptions involved perceived differences over U.S. policies regarding Iran. Gates said Fallon fully supported the administration’s policy of trying to deal with the Iranian challenge through diplomatic and economic pressures and sanctions.

“So I don't think that there really were differences at all,” Gates said. “But I think there is this misperception out there that there were.”

Months of trying to “put this misperception behind us,” it hasn’t succeeded, he said.

Gates said he agreed with Fallon’s assessment that whether true or not, he agrees that any misperceptions about the policy proved to be distractions from the mission. “That's why I believe he's made the right decision,” he said.

Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said he supports Gates’ decision to accept Fallon’s resignation and request for retirement. “I also respect the reasons for which Admiral Fallon submitted it and applaud his ability to recognize the responsibility before him,” the chairman said.

“By his leadership and through the example he continues to set with this decision today, he has demonstrated to future generations of soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen the highest sense of personal honor and dignity,” Mullen continued.

Gates said Fallon will be difficult to replace. “He is enormously talented, very experienced, and he does have a strategic vision that is rare,” the secretary said. “So it does leave a hole.”

He expressed confidence, however, that a skilled and qualified replacement will be found among the many talented senior military officers.

The secretary praised Fallon’s distinguished 40-year military career that included leadership of U.S. Pacific Command and most recently, U.S. Central Command. “Fox Fallon has led our nation and hundreds of thousands of men and women in uniform with conviction, strategic vision, integrity and courage,” Gates said.

“As commander of CENTCOM, he has managed with skill and diplomacy the mounting challenges across the broader Middle East and has kept foremost in mind the need to protect our vital national security interests in the region,” the secretary said. “Fox Fallon has dedicated his life to the preservation of the freedoms we in this nation enjoy today, and all Americans should be deeply grateful for his dedication. On behalf of the Department of Defense and the nation, I thank him for his years of selfless service.”

Mullen and Bush shared Gates’ admiration of Fallon. “On behalf of the men and women of the armed forces, I extend to him and his family my heartfelt gratitude for the extraordinary service they have rendered this nation for more than four decades -- afloat and ashore, in peace and in war,” Mullen said.

“Bill Fallon is an extraordinary leader, a visionary and a good friend who answered our country's call time and time again in positions of ever greater responsibility,” he said. “He had an enormous impact, not only on the way we operate and fight in this new century, but also on the way in which we stay engaged globally.”

Bush noted in a statement released by the White House that Fallon made history as the first naval officer to command Central Command.

“From the Horn of Africa, to the streets of Baghdad, to the mountains of Afghanistan, the soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, and Coast Guardsmen of Central Command are vital to the global war on terror,” the president said. “During his tenure at CENTCOM, Admiral Fallon’s job has been to help ensure that America’s military forces are ready to meet the threats of an often-troubled region of the world, and he deserves considerable credit for progress that has been made there, especially in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

Bush expressed thanks to Fallon for serving the United States “with honor, determination and commitment,” and to the family that has supported his military service. “I wish them all the best as they begin the next chapter in their lives,” he said.

Commenting on his nearly-42-year career, Fallon said today he is “grateful for having had this opportunity to serve with the outstanding service personnel and civilians of Central Command.

“It has been my high honor to have served my nation and the Navy for four decades, and I thank all of you who continue to serve,” he said.

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