Gen. Mark Milley said Tuesday that as Army chief of staff he would give serious consideration to arming recruiters to boost force protection in the aftermath of the Chattanooga shootings in which four Marines and a sailor were killed.
"In some cases, I think it's appropriate," Milley said of the controversial issue of having recruiters carry weapons for self-defense at shopping malls and downtown storefronts nationwide that were intended to be open and inviting to potential volunteers.
At his confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Milley said that arming recruiters was "complicated legally" by a patchwork of state laws.
However, if the legal aspects can be resolved, "I think under certain conditions -- both on military bases and in outstations, recruiting stations, reserve centers -- we should seriously consider it," Milley said.
In nearly two hours of testimony, Milley also staked out positions on a range of issues that could put him at odds with the White House if he is confirmed to succeed Gen. Ray Odierno as the next Army chief of staff.
When asked for his "unvarnished advice" on Iraq by Sen. Joe Donnelly, D-Conn., Milley said he was open to having U.S. Joint Terminal Attack Controllers (JTACs) on the front lines and also to having U.S. advisers embedded with front-line Iraqi units. The use of JTACs and ground advisers have both been ruled out thus far by the Obama administration.
"JTACs forward is something that should be seriously considered to improve the effectiveness of the enablers, the close air support that is being provided," Milley said.
Milley, a veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan, added that "I think advisers going forward with units, again, is something that should be seriously considered. However, there are a lot of issues with that -- with security of our people and the risk associated with it."
Russia Tops Threat List
Milley echoed recent comments by Marine Commandant Gen. Joseph Dunford -- the nominee to be the next Joint Chiefs Chairman -- that Russia was the top national security threat to the U.S., and he backed sending more troops to bolster U.S. Army Europe.
"I do think we need to increase ground forces on a temporary, rotational basis," Milley said of Army strength in Europe that now stands at about 30,000. Milley also said he backed providing "defensive" weapons to Ukraine.
Under questioning from Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., Milley defended the Army's controversial cost-cutting plan called the Aviation Restructuring Initiative (ARI) which would retire the Vietnam-vintage OH-58 Kiowa scout helicopters and replace them with AH-64 Apache gunships taken from the National Guard.
The National Guard has opposed the plan, which is now under review by the National Commission on the Future of the Army. Wicker charged that the transfer plan has set off an "unseemly" dispute between the Guard and the active duty Army.
Milley said the plan would save the Army about $1 billion annually and warned that without ARI three active-duty Army divisions – the 1st Infantry Division, the 10th Mountain Division and the 25th Division in Hawaii – would lose their armed reconnaissance capability.
"There's puts and takes to this ARI thing," Milley said, but "if we do not execute this ARI, we're going to blind three of the 10 active duty division commanders with inability to see a battlefield if they were committed. On balance, I would favor the transfer (of the Apaches)," Milley said, but he would await the Commission's findings.
Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, joined Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., the SASC chairman, in pressing Milley for the Army's response to the shootings at a Chattanooga shootings reserve center last week in which police said 24-year-old Mohammad Youssef Abdulazeez killed Gunnery Sgt. Thomas Sullivan, 40; Staff Sgt. David Wyatt, 35; Sgt. Carson A. Holmquist; Lance Cpl. Squire D. "Skip" Wells, 21; and Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Randall Smith, 26.
Milley noted that as the son of a 4th Marine Division veteran who took part in the Iwo Jima landings, he took it hard when he learned of the deaths.
Milley said that there were both active and passive measures the Army was considering for better protection. The passive measures included installing bulletproof glass and better coordination with local law enforcement, while active measures included arming recruiters and allowing troops to carry personal weapons on base.
Then-Lt. Gen. Milley was commander at Fort Hood, Tex., in April 2014 when Spec. Ivan Lopez-Lopez opened fire, killing three soldiers and wounding 12 others before killing himself.
Numerous lawmakers then called for allowing troops to carry weapons on base but Milley said at a news conference "I don't think soldiers should have concealed weapons on base."
Should he be confirmed, the 57-year-old Milley, who grew up in Boston, would be the first Ivy League graduate to hold the post of Army chief of staff. He graduated from Princeton in 1980 with a degree in political science.
Milley also has earned Masters Degrees from Columbia University (International Relations), and from the United States Naval War College (National Security and Strategic Studies).
Milley currently is head of U.S. Army Forces Command at Fort Bragg, N.C. Prior to taking the Forces Command post in August 2014, Milley was commander of III Corps and commander at Fort Hood.
He has also served in the 82d Airborne Division and the 5th Special Forces Group at Fort Bragg, N.C., the 7th Infantry Division at Fort Ord, Calif., the 10th Mountain Division at Fort Drum, N.Y., the 2d Infantry Division in Korea, the Joint Readiness Center at Fort Polk, La., the 25th Infantry Division at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii, and the 101st Airborne (Air Assault) at Fort Campbell, Ky.
In the course of his testimony, Milley was not asked about his decision earlier this year as the convening authority in the case to prefer charges against Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl on one count of desertion and one count of misbehavior before the enemy.
-- Richard Sisk can be reached at email@example.com