WASHINGTON (AP) - President Barack Obama moved Monday to seal an overhaul of his national security team, selecting Army Gen. Martin Dempsey as the next Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman amid protracted battle in Afghanistan, U.S. involvement in the NATO-led effort against Libya's Moammar Gadhafi and a winding down of the war in Iraq.
Obama announced a new lineup of his top military leadership group in the Rose Garden of the White House just before venturing across the Potomac to pay tribute to the nation's war dead at Arlington National Cemetery. The Memorial Day announcements had been expected, although there was no immediate indication what the military leadership moves might imply for possible changes in military strategy.
Already, the president had turned, in late April, to CIA Director Leon Panetta to succeed Robert Gates as secretary of defense and chose to move Army Gen. David Petraeus from his command of the Afghanistan war effort to the United States to replace Panetta at the CIA.
Marine Gen. James Cartwright had long been rumored to be Obama's favorite, and the president singled him out for praise at the announcement. But he turned instead to Dempsey, an accomplished veteran of the Iraq war, to succeed Adm. Mike Mullen as his top military adviser, calling 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 Obama voiced hope that could happen in a timely fashion.
At the White House, 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."
Later on, Obama placed a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns at the venerable Arlington burial grounds. And in a speech at the Arlington amphitheater in front of a flag-draped wall, the president, who had met earlier in the day with families of troops killed in war, said: "To those of you mourn the loss of a loved one today, my heart goes out to you."
Dempsey, who began a four-year term as Army chief of staff on April 11, will have to be confirmed by the Senate, as will Winnefeld and Odierno.
Gates said that Dempsey, Winnefeld and Odierno are excellent choices.
"They possess the right mix of intellectual heft, moral courage and strategic vision to provide sound and candid advice to the president and his national security team," Gates said. "Above all, they are proven leaders of men and women in combat operations over the past decade and are uniquely qualified to guide and shape our military institutions through the challenging times ahead.