Lt. Gen. John Paxton speaks at the 9th Annual Marine Corps Association & Foundation Ground Dinner on Nov. 29. He will take command as the assistant commandant of the Marine Corps, and pin on a fourth star, at Marine Barracks Washington on Saturday. (Colin Kelly / Staff)
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Lt. Gen. John Paxton will take over as the Marine Corps' No. 2 officer during a ceremony in Washington on Saturday as Gen. Joseph Dunford prepares to become the top commander in Afghanistan.
Paxton will pin on a fourth star and become assistant commandant of the Marine Corps at Marine Barracks Washington, Marine officials announced Wednesday. The details were first reported Monday in Marine Corps Times' print edition.
Dunford will step down as ACMC and could take over the International Security Assistance Force as soon as January, two Marine sources familiar with the Corps' plans said. The Senate confirmed him Dec. 3 as ISAF's next commander.
The timing of Paxton's promotion will help with transition in the Corps as Dunford, one of its most influential officers, moves on to a joint assignment. Lt. Gen. Richard Tryon, the deputy commandant of plans, policies and operations, will be nominated to fill Paxton's current job in Norfolk, Va., as head of Marine Corps Forces Command, Marine Corps Forces Europe and Fleet Marine Force Atlantic, said two Marine officials with knowledge of the Corps' plans.
The moves raise additional questions about what other general officers could be shifted this year as Tryon's PP&O job is filled. In his current assignment, he oversees Marine operations across the world and coordinates the development and execution of deployments and other service plans. Marine officials have been mum on who will take the job.
It's likely that Tryon will not be confirmed by the Senate as the head of MARFORCOM until early next year due to Congress' schedule, meaning Brig. Gen. W. Blake Crowe will serve as the acting commander there for at least a month, Marine officials said. Crowe currently is MARFORCOM's deputy commander and heads Marine Corps Forces South.
The Corps also will shift at least two two-star officers, as Maj. Gen. Lawrence Nicholson returns from a deployment early next year as the operations officer for ISAF Joint Command in Kabul. He'll be replaced by Maj. Gen. Joseph Osterman, another infantry officer who has served since July 2011 as the commanding general of Marine Corps Recruiting Command, out of Quantico, Va., said a senior Marine officer with knowledge of the assignment.
No announcement has been made on where Nicholson will serve next, but it's expected that Lt. Gen. Robert Milstead will become the acting commander at MCRC for several months while continuing to serve as deputy commandant for Manpower and Reserve Affairs. The two commands are based in the same building at Quantico, and Milstead previously headed MCRC before he was promoted and assumed command at Manpower in January 2011.
The new ACMC
In Paxton, the Corps will get a new assistant commandant who is described by those who serve with him as bright but unassuming. Prior to serving as the head of MARFORCOM, he led II Marine Expeditionary Force, out of Camp Lejeune, N.C.
The career infantry officer offered some of his first public comments since being nominated as ACMC in October during a 25-minute speech at the Ground Dinner in Arlington, Va., on Nov. 29. He didn't mention his pending promotion, but described a series of "new norms" that the Corps must account for, including longer deployments by Marine expeditionary units and frequent engagement by Fleet Anti-Terrorism Support Teams, platoon-sized units that reinforce embassies and other U.S. facilities abroad in crisis.
Paxton said the last three MEUs to deploy from the East Coast have not had a full six months of predeployment training, which was once considered standard for the 2,200-man units before they went underway with three-ship Navy amphibious ready groups. Each Marine unit was called on early, most dramatically when the 22nd MEU left 89 days ahead of schedule last year to replace the 26th MEU off the coast of Libya, where the U.S. military was involved at the time.
The general said the MEUs must deploy as needed and do whatever they can to continue their training while underway, even as the ships and Marines and sailors aboard are separated to engage with multiple countries at one time.
"You don't get everything you need here," he said. "You have to work at it as you go, but Marines have been doing that for 237 years."
FAST units will continue to deploy quietly to hot spots around the globe as needed on a moment's notice, Paxton said. Over the past few years, FAST platoons have been called on to reinforce U.S. interests in Kyrgyzstan, Egypt, Libya and Haiti, he said. A team also was dispatched to Yemen on Sept. 14. Ideally, they deploy for about 30 days, but they will stay longer if needed.
"The last two we brought back at 77 days and 84 days," Paxton said, without elaborating as to which countries those units were in. "OK? Another new norm."