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Obama picks Dempsey for Joint Chiefs head

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama announced Army Gen. Martin Dempsey as his choice to succeed Adm. Mike Mullen as chairman of the military Joint Chiefs of Staff Monday, rounding out an overhaul of his national security team in his third year in office.

Marine Gen. James Cartwright had long been rumored to be Mr. Obama's favorite, and the president singled him out for praise at Monday's Rose Garden announcement. But he turned instead to Dempsey, an accomplished veteran of the Iraq war, to succeed Mullen.

President Obama called Dempsey "one of our nation's most respected and combat-tested generals."

The president also announced he has chosen Navy Adm. James Winnefeld to succeed Cartwright as vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs and Army Gen. Ray Odierno as his candidate to replace Dempsey as Army chief of staff.

The nominees have to be approved by the Senate, and President Obama voiced hope that could happen in a timely fashion.

Mr. Obama called America's servicemen and women "the best our nation has to offer, and they deserve nothing but the best in return, and that includes leaders."

The president immediately headed to venerable Arlington National Cemetery to lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns and to pay respects to all who have been killed in war.

The president earlier this month decided to send CIA Director Leon Panetta to the Pentagon to succeed Robert Gates as defense secretary and chose Afghanistan war commander Gen. David Petraeus to replace Panetta at the CIA. Both of those men, too, will need to be confirmed by the Senate.

Dempsey began a four-year term as Army chief of staff on April 11.

Appearing in a nationally broadcast interview Monday morning, Mullen said he's encouraged that the Pakistani government is launching a major offensive on militants in the North Waziristan area near the border with Pakistan. "It's a very important fight and a very important operation," he said.

Mullen also said he has perceived strong support among the American people for American servicemen and women and said he's grateful for that. He said he doesn't want to see a "disconnect" between the uniformed men and women and the population at large.

Asked if a change of guard at the Joint Chiefs means a change of strategy in Afghanistan, he replied, "We obviously have added these forces ... and we've really seen progress on the security side. ... We will sustain losses as we have in the last few days. ... That said, I am confident that by the end of the year, we'll be in a much, much better position."

He said he hopes the public understands "the depth of sacrifice" made by servicemen and women.

Mullen appeared on ABC's "Good Morning America," CBS's "The Early Show" and NBC's "Today" show.

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