The New Pentagon Spokesperson Is an Air Force One-Star

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Joint Staff spokesperson Air Force Col. Patrick S. Ryder addresses the media during a press briefing at the Pentagon, Washington, D.C.
Joint Staff spokesperson Air Force Col. Patrick S. Ryder addresses the media during a press briefing at the Pentagon, Washington, D.C., Sept. 19, 2019. (Petty Officer 2nd Class James K. Lee/U.S. Navy photo)

The Department of Defense announced Thursday that Brig. Gen. Patrick S. Ryder will be the Pentagon's newest spokesperson -- putting a uniformed officer in the role of press secretary.

Ryder currently serves as the Air Force's director of public affairs and will replace John Kirby, who left the position this spring. Kirby, a retired rear admiral who has served as press secretary twice, was also the last spokesperson to serve in uniform when he assumed the role for the first time in 2013.

"Pat will fill a critical role, leading our efforts to provide timely, accurate information to the media, and through the media to the American people," Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said in a press release Thursday. 

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Ryder began his military career in 1992 when he was commissioned into the Air Force through the University of Florida's Reserve Officer Training Corps program. Over the last 30 years, he has held junior public affairs roles in peacekeeping missions in the '90s, a strategic planning job in Iraq, a spokesman role for the U.S.' counter-ISIS operation, and a top media relations job with the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

"He brings a wealth of experience, including joint and deployed assignments that will serve him well as he informs the media of our activities around the world," Austin said. 

Some have questioned whether a uniformed officer should serve as spokesperson -- performing at times overtly political work for a political appointee -- given the military's traditional reluctance to take on a political stance. 

Kirby was the first press secretary to serve in uniform as a Navy rear admiral. In 2015, he was ousted from the position by newly appointed Defense Secretary Ash Carter, who wanted to "revisit" the job, according to Politico.

"One of the questions that I think [Carter] wants to rhetorically ask, or consider, is not just who the individual is, but what that individual represents, and whether it's appropriate or not to have a uniform up here," Kirby said almost 10 years ago. "Those are fair questions for him to ask as he comes into the job."

Austin voiced his support in a press release for the one-star taking on the press secretary job. 

"I am confident that I will benefit from his counsel, and that the American people will benefit from his ability to clearly and consistently communicate our efforts to protect the United States and its interests around the world, take care of our people, and strengthen our unrivaled alliances and partnerships," Austin said in the statement.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to correct how long Ryder has served.

-- Drew F. Lawrence can be reached at drew.lawrence@military.com. Follow him on Twitter @df_lawrence.

Related: Kirby to Step Down as Pentagon Press Secretary

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