New Chairman of Joint Chiefs A Solid, Steady Military Leader
WASHINGTON (AP) _ ″People usually refer to me as Shali,″ says Gen. John Shalikashvili. And that’s just what President Clinton did when he designated the NATO commander to be the nation’s top military officer.
In the Polish-born Army general, Clinton will get an adviser who has been skeptical of how much air strikes could accomplish in Bosnia.
He testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee last April and when asked if air strikes could be carried out against Serbian artillery positions in the mountains around Sarajevo, he replied, ″To some degree you can do it.″
″Gen. Shali,″ as the president called him will succeed Gen. Colin Powell as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Shalikashvili doesn’t have the star quality of Powell or Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, who became celebrities during the Persian Gulf War, but he will come to the position with a reputation as a solid, steady military man.
″He knows how to put combat power together, understands policy options and will also be highly regarded by the troops,″ said retired Col. Roy Alcala, who worked with Shalikashvili in the Pentagon.
Standing next to Clinton in the White House Rose Garden, Shalikashvili gave his backing to the most controversial military decision the president has made since taking office.
Does he support Clinton’s decision to begin phasing homosexuals into the military?
″I am very comfortable that the decision has been taken after very detailed and very concerned deliberations,″ replied Shalikashvili, sounding somewhat more supportive than Powell.
As for women in the military, Shalikashvili responded without hesitation: ″I feel great about women in the military.″
A less imposing figure than Powell or Schwarzkopf, the NATO commander is of medium height, has close-cropped graying hair and wears metal rimmed glasses.
What is likely to strike many people most about this American general is his Eastern European accent.
He was born in Warsaw on June 27, 1936, the grandson of a czarist general and the son of an army officer from Soviet Georgia. His family fled Warsaw in 1944 and he traveled westward to Germany in a cattle car.
He settled in Peoria, Ill., and according to his official Pentagon biography learned English from watching John Wayne movies.
He received a degree in engineering from Bradley University where he also enrolled in the ROTC program.
He entered the Army in 1958 and was commissioned a second lieutenant on graduation from officer candidate school in 1959. Ten years later he was decorated for service as a military adviser to South Vietnamese units.
When the Persian Gulf War broke out, Shalikashvili was deputy commander in chief of the U.S. Army in Europe.
After the war, President Bush named him to command the relief operation for Kurdish refugees in northern Iraq, a role that required him to balance a mandate to save the Kurds from Iraqi reprisals while also calming the concerns of Turkey which has a large restive Kurdish minority.
He received wide praise for his handling of the delicate situation.
Shalikashvili and his wife Joan have a son, Brant, who is a student at Washington State University.