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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, June 13, 2003

Army's Shinseki made nation, Hawai'i proud

"My name is Shinseki, and I am a soldier."

With those simple and humble words, Eric Shinseki, a product of Kaua'i High School's Class of 1960, retired at Ft. Myer, Va., as the top ranking military officer in the U.S. Army.

Indeed, Shinseki is a soldier's soldier, with credentials including two Purple Hearts and four Bronze Stars earned in action in Vietnam. Later, he became the first Asian American to wear four stars.

Throughout his illustrious career, Shinseki has done Hawai'i proud. At his retirement, Sen. Dan Akaka sagely attributed his deep humility to his aloha spirit roots.

Sen. Dan Inouye, who nominated Shinseki to West Point more than 40 years ago, had this to say at his fellow Islander's retirement: "I think he will go down in history as one of the best," Inouye said. "I think he's led us in the right direction."

Certainly Inouye's view would be disputed by Shinseki's boss, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who is critical of the Army for being trapped by Cold War doctrine and ill-equipped for what he sees as a new era of small wars, anywhere.

Shinseki's supporters inside and outside the Army say they are puzzled by the divide because both men have, to a great degree, staked their careers on "transforming" the military.

The two were at odds over Shinseki's support for the expensive Crusader artillery system and for his backing of Army Secretary Thomas White. Both the Crusader program and White were terminated by Rumsfeld.

Rumsfeld was also unhappy with Shinseki for telling Congress that hundreds of thousands of troops would be required for the occupation of Iraq, a prediction that looks increasingly astute these days.

Still, Shinseki was instrumental in planning for the Army's transformation into a more "nimble, light and lethal" fighting force, relentlessly promoting six new Stryker combat brigades.

That isn't radical enough, however, for Rumsfeld, who reportedly intends an extensive review of the Stryker brigades and much more. That's ambitious, given the resistance to change by many senior officers.

Almost as if to dig his fingers in their eyes, Rumsfeld has bypassed those senior officers, nominating as Shinseki's replacement a retired four-star general, Peter Schoomaker, whose background is in special operations.

Rumsfeld's vision for the Army includes a pullback from the Korean DMZ and transfer of some or all of the 60,000 Army personnel away from Germany, to places like Poland and Romania.

If Rumsfeld's transformation is successful, if he junks Shinseki's Stryker brigades for something even more radical, one would see Shinseki as a transitional figure in Army history.

Still, Shinseki is unlikely to "just fade away," as Gen. Douglas MacArthur said old soldiers do. At a vigorous 60, Shinseki has much to offer, including a possible role in Hawai'i politics.

We congratulate him on his retirement — and wish him further success.