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Rafu Shimpo (Los Angeles Japanese Daily News): Shinseki Tapped for Veterans Affairs

He “was right”: Obama picks General who said U.S. needed more troops in Iraq.

December 13, 2008


Shinseki and ObamaAP
President-elect Barack Obama stands with Veterans Affairs Secretary
designate retired Army Gen. Eric K. Shinseki during a news conference
in Chicago, Sunday. Shinseki previously served as U.S. Army chief of staff.


On the 67th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, President-elect Barack Obama chose a Japanese American as the nation's lead advocate for American veterans and their families.

Obama on Sunday announced retired General Eric K. Shinseki, 66, as his se­lection to be S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs. President-elect Obama stressed the importance of the post Gen. Shinseki would hold. The Department of Veterans Affairs provides benefits to the nation's veterans, which number 25 million.

"We owe it to all our veterans to honor them as we honored our Greatest Generation," the President-elect said. "Not just with words, but with deeds."

Born in Lihue, Kauai, Shinseki is the first Japanese American to reach the rank of four-star general. He gradu­ated from the U.S. Military Academy in 1965. During his 38 years as a soldier, he received two Purple Hearts for life-threatening injuries in Vietnam after stepping on a land mine, which blew off much of his foot.

"A word to my fellow veterans," Shinseki said at the press conference where Obama announced his nomina­tion. "If confirmed, I will work each and every day to ensure that we are serving you as well as you have served us."

He added, "We will always honor the sacrifices of those who have worn the uniform, and their loved ones."

Shinseki became the Army's chief of staff in 1999. His tenure as Army chief of staff from 1999 to 2003 was marked by constant tensions with Defense Sec­retary Donald Rumsfeld, which boiled over in 2003 when Shinseki testified to Congress that it might take several hundred thousand U.S. troops to control Iraq after the invasion.

Rumsfeld and his deputy, Paul Wolfowitz, belittled the estimate as "wildly off the mark" and the general was marginalized and later retired from the Army. But Shinseki's words proved prophetic after President George W. Bush in early 2007 announced a "surge" of additional troops to after miscal­culating the numbers needed to stem sectarian violence.

Obama said he selected Shinseki for the VA post because he "was right" in predicting that the U.S. will need more troops in Iraq than Rumsfeld believed at the time.

Now, Shinseki is faced with the task in the Obama administration of fixing a broken Veterans Affairs department, criticized for underestimating the re­sources needed to provide medical care and timely benefits to thousands of returning Iraq war veterans.

"It's huge responsibility to ensure those who are already in the system receive the benefits they earned and also to ensure that, as veterans join this group from the military service everyday, that the way has been paved for them to make that transition successfully," said Shinseki, in an interview following the announcement.

"This is exciting for me. I retired five years ago and did not intend to return to government, but President-elect Obama was quite convincing in what needed to be done and asked me for my assistance. My passion of 38 years was serving with and serving soldiers and their families. And this opportunity to serve our veterans and their families was just a continuation of that great passion, I look forward to it."

Since 2006, Shinseki has served as national spokesperson for the Go For Broke National Education Center and last month he delivered the keynote address at their annual gala in Los Angeles.

If confirmed, Shinseki would be the second Japanese American to serve in a presidential cabinet following Norman Mineta, who served in both the Bush and Clin­ton cabinets. He is the fourth Asian American picked to serve in the Obama administration. Peter Rouse will serve as Senior White House Advisor; Chris Lu, execu­tive director of the Presidential Transition Team, has been announced as the White House Cabinet Secretary; and Tina Tchen, a prominent litigator from Chicago, will serve as the director of Public Liaison in the White House.

"Gen. Shinseki is a friend and will be a strong advocate on behalf of all veterans, including Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders," said Rep. Mike Honda, chair of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus. "I proudly applaud President-elect Obama's selection of the General as his secretary of Veterans Affairs. The President-elect continues to bring the best and brightest onto his team, reflecting America's diversity."

Sen. Daniel Akaka, chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, praised Shinseki as a "great choice" who will make an excellent VA secretary.

"I have great respect for Gen. Shinseki's judgment and abilities," said Akaka, in a statement. "I am confident that he will use his wisdom and experience to ensure that our veterans receive the respect and care they have earned in defense of our nation. President-elect Obama is select­ing a team that reflects our nation's greatest strength, its diversity, and applaud him."

Sen. Daniel Inouye, a Medal of Honor recipient, praised the announcement as a "perfect candidate" for the job. The senator noted that he nominated Shinseki to West Point.

"He served with distinction and was seriously wounded. Shinseki, like many other veterans, will carry his scars to his grave," said Inouye. "He understands the military and the needs of our veterans. I am honored to support one of Hawaii's greatest heroes."

Veterans groups also cheered the decision.

"General Shinseki has a record of courage and honesty, and is a bold choice to lead the VA into the future," said Paul Rieckhoff, executive director of the Iraq and Afghani­stan Veterans of America. "He is a man that has always put patriotism ahead of politics, and is held in high regard by veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan."

Veterans for Common Sense released a statement in "strong" support of Shinseki.

The statement read: "In February 2003, General Shin­seki honestly and correctly assessed our nation's military needs before the invasion of Iraq in March 2003. This same level of candor and honesty will serve President-elect Obama well so he can quickly and accurately identify VA's many challenges and then implement responsible solutions that take into consideration our veterans' needs and concerns."

Year: [2008] , 2007 , 2006

December 2008

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