Mark Milley, the top U.S. general, concluded his four-year tenure on Friday, delivering a speech that emphasized the solemn oath of American troops to the Constitution rather than any “wannabe dictator.”
This statement was widely interpreted as a reference to former President Donald Trump, eliciting audible reactions from some in the audience.
President Joe Biden praised Milley as a wise advisor and a battle-hardened warrior with experience in combat zones spanning Afghanistan, Iraq, Panama, and Haiti.
Milley’s accomplishments during his tenure included the elimination of Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al Baghdadi in 2019 and providing military support to Ukraine against Russia’s invasion in February 2022.
However, his tenure was marked by challenges, such as the tumultuous withdrawal from Afghanistan two years prior and a contentious relationship with Trump.
Milley’s condemnation of oath-taking to a “wannabe dictator” was a clear allusion to Trump, who faced criminal charges for attempting to overturn the 2020 election.
In response, Trump launched a barrage of insults, branding Milley as “slow-moving and thinking” and a “moron” on his Truth Social platform.
President Biden, in contrast, commended Milley for his unwavering bravery in the face of danger and recounted an incident where Milley had bravely intervened to prevent two tanks from crossing a booby-trapped bridge during wartime.
Milley formally handed over command to Air Force Chief General Charles Q. Brown, only the second Black officer to hold the position of Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, following in the footsteps of Colin Powell two decades prior.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin reminisced about a shared experience with Milley during the Iraq war when their vehicle was struck by an improvised explosive device while en route to visit a wounded soldier.
Austin recalled asking Milley if such incidents had happened to him before, to which Milley responded with remarkable composure, “Oh yeah, I’ve been blown up about five times now.”
Milley had assumed his role in 2019 after Trump’s nomination but faced the challenge of maintaining a relationship with the former president without appearing overtly political.
He publicly apologized in 2020 for accompanying Trump during a photo opportunity walk to a nearby church following the clearance of protesters with tear gas and rubber bullets.
Milley expressed concerns for his family’s safety after Trump insinuated that he had colluded with China, a claim that, in the past, would have had dire consequences.
The incoming General Charles Q. Brown, a self-described introvert, articulated his commitment to deterring aggression and responding when necessary.
He stressed the need for the U.S. military to modernize with innovative concepts and approaches.
Brown’s promotion marked a historic moment as Black Americans assumed the top two positions at the Pentagon for the first time.
This milestone reflected progress in an institution known for diversity among lower ranks but predominance of white males at the highest levels.
President Biden had previously appointed Lloyd Austin as the first Black U.S. Secretary of Defense, further diversifying the Pentagon’s leadership.