Putting Vet Back in VA

Sunday, President-elect Barack Obama selected former Army Chief and retired Gen. Eric Shinseki as his secretary of VA.

Shinseki might be best remembered for smashing to the 15 Minutes of Fame Rule. He became a folk hero of sorts following his candid and accurate estimate of troop levels necessary to secure Iraq following combat operations.

In early 2003, while Army chief of staff, Shinseki testified before the Senate Armed Service Committee. In his professional estimate, he told lawmakers several hundred thousand ground troops would be needed to secure Iraq. (Oddly, now fact as folklore, his estimate is pegged a “premonition.” We call it doing his job and knowing his business.) After they revived the Office of the Secretary of Defense denizens, Defense leaders and their goons made the media rounds. Shinseki had taken on a new title: Pariah. While he was not fired or forced out (another part of the folklore), his last few months seemed unpleasant. Shinseki has said little, though for many years, media types and Iraqi Freedom critics have pointed to Shinseki’s troop estimate.

This should be a welcome change for the 66 year old who hails from Hawaii. While at the VA, Shinseki might not be doing much in the area of national security, but his talents will be put to good use. As the story goes, following Vietnam, Shinseki was one of a handful of soldiers badly injured in combat (he lost a portion of his foot to a mine) who successfully fought to remain on active duty. Not only did he overcome his injuries and become the first Asian-American four-star, he can be credited with the roots of the Army’s transformation to a modernized and more responsive force. It was Shinseki who brought magic to the black beret, a simple piece of cloth that gave dignity back to the often downtrodden service.

Shinseki is walking into a generally well-run VA. He will have the opportunity to lead it through the additional load leaders anticipate — medically and otherwise.

Welcome back, Mr. Secretary!

A number of blogs announced Shinseki’s return to the national stage. Posts are fact-based; comments are positive and welcoming.  

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