Great historical events have often been "defining moments" for our nation’s military leaders. For General Richard B. Myers, nominated in August 2001 for the Chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff, September 11 was such a moment. In the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq that followed, he has successfully reshaped the way wars are fought and won in this new world.
Mr. Bush chose the former Vietnam combat pilot for the post in part because he was known for being a staunch advocate of the military use of space, and the building of a national missile defense shield. He is also the first Joint Chiefs Chairman from the Airforce in nearly 20 years.
"[O]ne of the reasons Dick Myers is the chairman of the Joint Chiefs nominee is because he has had a lot of experience in space... It’s an area that we need to explore and know more about. He’s had a lot of experience when it comes to the leading edge of technology that is becoming more and more prevalent in our military." Mr. Bush said when he announced Myers’ nomination.
General Myers told the Senate during his nomination hearings (just days after the September 11 attacks) that the military recognized the need to modernize to deal with new threats.
"Inside the Department of Defense we have unity of effort for transforming and for that matter, modernizing our forces," he said.
He has been cautious in describing the transformation he sees as necessary in the armed forces. In a speech to the Global Air and Space Forum in May of 2001, he said what the US military needs "isn’t really a revolutionary change.
"Call it a course correction if you will, where we maintain the best of what we already have - and it is very good - and just put it on a new heading to ensure we can address 21st century challenges."
This hybrid approach between maintaining its best qualities and improving in others has been proven in his two years of war in Afghanistan and Iraq. While his interest in space was a factor in his nomination, the conflict in Afghanistan that followed his confirmation was fought with conventional weaponry and dominating airpower. But the effects of "smarter" air weaponry in Iraq-much more pervasive than in the 1991 Gulf War-proved to be decisive in erasing any significant Iraqi threat on the ground.
Beyond the U.S. military’s activities in the Middle East, Myers has also been involved in reshaping the armed forces so that it will better protect Americans against the threats the country faces in a post-Sept. 11 world. The 2002 Unified Command Plan, a strategic plan for all the armed forces announced in April 2002, was part of that effort.
"I think September the 11th showed us the threats we face today... are extremely complex and require changes in the way our military thinks and reacts. The changes reflected in this Unified Command Plan I think... go a long way into preparing us for the future, and I believe they constitute a very major change," Myers said during a briefing in April 2002.
On Feb. 5, 2003, Myers testified before the House Armed Services Committee and explained the military’s recent strategic shifts:
"I have established three priorities as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff: To win the war on terrorism, to improve joint war-fighting and to transform our nation’s military to face the dangers of the 21st century," Myers said.
Prior to taking the helm as the military’s top uniformed officer, Myers was the vice-chairman of the Joint Chiefs, a position he earned under President Clinton.
During his years in the military, Myers amassed more than 4,100 flying hours and 600 combat hours. From November 1993 to June 1996, Myers was commander of U.S. forces in Japan and the 5th Air Force at the Yokota Air Base in Japan. He then served as assistant to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, followed by a year as commander of Pacific Air Forces in Hawaii. Myers was then promoted to commander of three installations, including the North American Aerospace Defense Command.
With all the demands of his job, the general (husband and father of two) still manages to escape his Pentagon office at 10 a.m. daily to get a cup of coffee at Starbucks. He rides a Harley-Davidson, plays saxophone and has two Old English sheepdogs.
Myers was born in Kansas City, Missouri in 1942 and grew up in Merriam, Kan. At Kansas State University he joined the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) of the Air Force and in 1965 received his bachelor’s in mechanical engineering. He also holds a Masters Degree in Business Administration from Auburn University. After graduation Myers entered the Air Force through the ROTC.