|Born||June 20, 1958|
Winchester, Massachusetts, US
|Service/||United States Army|
|Years of service||1980–present|
|Commands held||Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff|
Chief of Staff of the United States Army
United States Army Forces Command
International Security Assistance Force (joint)
10th Mountain Division
2nd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division (Light)
|Battles/wars||Operation Just Cause|
Operation Uphold Democracy
Operation Joint Endeavor
War in Afghanistan
|Awards||Defense Distinguished Service Medal (2)|
Army Distinguished Service Medal (4)
Defense Superior Service Medal (3)
Legion of Merit (3)
Bronze Star Medal (4)
|Alma mater||Princeton University (BA)|
Columbia University (MA)
Naval War College (MA)
Mark Alexander Milley (born June 20, 1958) is a United States Army general who serves as the 20th chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff since September 30, 2019. He previously served as the 39th chief of staff of the Army from August 14, 2015 to August 9, 2019, and held multiple command and staff positions in eight divisions and special forces throughout his military career.
An ROTC graduate from Princeton University, Milley earned his commission as an armor officer in 1980, and held a variety of infantry assignments. He was appointed chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff by President Donald Trump, making Milley the tenth U.S. Army officer to be chairman. As chairman, Milley is the highest-ranking officer in the United States Armed Forces and the principal military advisor to the president of the United States, the secretary of defense, the National Security Council and the Homeland Security Council.
Early life and education
Milley was born on June 20, 1958, in Winchester, Massachusetts. His father, Alexander (1924–2015), enlisted in the U.S. Navy in March 1943 as a Navy Corpsman. He was assigned to the 4th Marine Division and landed at Kwajalean, Saipan, Tinian and Iwo Jima. After the war, he worked as a restaurateur and food-broker. Milley's mother, Mary Elizabeth (née Murphy), served in the Navy at a Seattle-based hospital.
Milley attended Belmont Hill School, is of Irish descent, and was raised Roman Catholic. His father was a member of the Knights of Columbus, whose membership is limited to practicing Catholic men. Milley graduated from Princeton University with a Bachelor of Arts degree in politics in 1980 after completing a 185-page-long senior thesis titled "A Critical Analysis of Revolutionary Guerrilla Organization in Theory and Practice". Milley also holds a Master of Arts degree in international relations from Columbia University and another Master of Arts degree in national security and strategic studies from the Naval War College. He is also an attendee of the MIT Center for International Studies Seminar XXI National Security Studies Program.
Milley's career has included assignments with the 82nd Airborne Division, 5th Special Forces Group, 7th Infantry Division, 2nd Infantry Division, Joint Readiness Training Center, 25th Infantry Division, Operations Staff of the Joint Staff, and a posting as Military Assistant to the Secretary of Defense.
Milley has held multiple command and staff positions in eight divisions and special forces throughout his military career. He commanded 1st Battalion, 506th Infantry, 2nd Infantry Division.when? He served as commander of 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division (Light) from December 2003 to July 2005; deputy commanding general for operations of the 101st Airborne Division from July 2007 to April 2008, and as commanding general of the 10th Mountain Division from November 2011 to December 2012. Milley commanded III Corps, based at Fort Hood, Texas, from December 2012 to August 2014, and concurrently the International Security Assistance Force Joint Command from May 2013 to February 2014. He served as the commanding general of the United States Army Forces Command at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, from August 2014 to August 2015.
Chief of Staff of the Army
Milley was appointed chief of staff of the Army on August 14, 2015. In his initial message to the U.S. Army, General Milley laid out his priorities on readiness, the future Army, and taking care of troops. "We must ensure the Army remains ready as the world's premier combat force. Readiness for ground combat is—and will remain—the U.S. Army's #1 priority. We will do what it takes to build an agile, adaptive Army of the future."
Modernization and reform
During his tenure, Milley focused heavily on modernization efforts for the Army, which included a new command designed to consolidate the methods that deliver Army capabilities, similar to the approach used by U.S. Special Operations Command. At the 2017 Association of the United States Army annual meeting, Milley described the areas targeted for modernization, including tanks, aircraft and weapons. "Faster results will be obtained...as we shift to a SOCOM-like model of buy, try, decide and acquire rather than the current industrial-age linear model that takes years to establish requirements, decades to test, and it may take a long, long time to go from idea to delivery," Milley said. "If we adapt to the changing character of war, and we embrace the institutional changes that we need to implement, then we will continue to be the most lethal fighting force in the world for the next seven decades and beyond. If we do not, we will lose the next war," Milley warned.
In February 2017, the Army announced the establishment of Security Force Assistance Brigades. Also known as SFABs, these permanent units were established in Fort Benning with a core mission to conduct security cooperation activities and serve as a quick response to combatant commander requirements.
While their training would be similar to that of Special Forces, soldiers in the SFABs would not be considered Special Forces, Milley said. "They will be trained in many ways similar to Special Forces, but they are not Special Forces." These SFABs will be structured using the non-commissioned and commissioned officers of infantry brigade combat teams to train foreign military units in conventional light infantry tactics, Milley said.
In 2018, Milley established Army Futures Command in Austin, Texas, to take advantage of nearby academic and industrial expertise. Coequal in status to the Army's three senior most commands: Army Forces Command, Army Material Command, and Army Training and Doctrine Command, it represented one of the largest reform initiatives undertaken in more than forty years. Beyond developing future warfighting concepts, eight cross-functional teams conducted research to further the Army's modernization priorities: long-range precision fires, next-generation combat vehicles, air and missile defenses, soldier lethality, synthetic training environments, future vehicle lift platforms, and assured positioning, navigation, and timing.
In 2018, Milley also led the roll out of a new Army Combat Fitness Test. The new fitness test was designed to improve overall combat readiness and mimic physical tasks and stresses associated with combat and was set to replace the 40-year-old Army fitness test by October 2020. "We want to make sure that our soldiers are ... in top physical shape to withstand the rigors of ground combat," Milley said. "Combat is not for the faint of heart, it's not for the weak-kneed, it's not for those who are not psychologically resilient and tough and hardened to the brutality, to the viciousness of it."
While the ACFT became the test of record for soldiers on Oct. 1, the Army was still working to finalize the evaluation in June 2020, according to Sergeant Major of the Army Michael Grinston. The COVID-19 outbreak forced Army leaders to pause all fitness testing in late March 2020 to prevent the spread of the virus, a move that also paused the ACFT graduation requirement for new soldiers.
Army Green Service Uniform
In early 2017, Milley and then-Sergeant Major of the Army Dan Dailey began considering the possibility of bringing back an iconic two-tone uniform known as the "Pinks and Greens" to honor the "greatest generation" of soldiers who fought in World War II.
The Army believed the reintroduction of the uniform would give soldiers a uniform for professional environments that honored the Army heritage, reconnect today's soldiers with their service history, strengthen pride, bolster recruiting and enhance readiness.
According to an Army Times poll conducted in the fall of 2018, of the 32,000 respondents, 72 percent indicated they were ready to embrace a new uniform, while 28 percent said they were happy with the current blue Army Service Uniform. Soldiers did express concerns about the need for an additional uniform as well as the costs associated with acquiring the new uniform. The Army tried to address this concern in its official roll out announcement Nov. 11, 2018, indicating the uniform would be cost-neutral for enlisted soldiers, who would be able to purchase the new "everyday business-wear uniform" with their existing annual clothing allowance. The Army also indicated the new uniform would come "at no additional cost to the American taxpayer" and would be "made in the USA."
Following an initial testing and evaluation phase with recruiters, senior leaders, and members of the Old Guard and Army Band, the Army had to delay the issuing of the uniform at entry-level training locations due to production setbacks related to COVID-19.
Iraq War study
In 2018, Milley was involved in deciding whether the Army would publish a controversial study on the 2003-2006 Iraq War. Milley reportedly decided he wanted to read the two-volume, 1,300-page, 500,000-word document before making a decision. Milley also directed that an external panel of scholars review the work. After the panel returned glowing reviews on the study, including one that described it as "the gold standard in official history", Milley continued to delay publication so he could review it further. In September 2018, Secretary of the Army Mark Esper and other Army officials decided to distance themselves from the study by casting it "as an independent" work of the authors, instead of being described as a project by the Chief of Staff of the Army's Operation Iraqi Freedom Study Group. When confronted by a journalist from The Wall Street Journal in October 2018, Milley reversed these decisions, ordering the study published officially and with a foreword from himself. He said the team who wrote the study "did a damn good job", the study itself was "a solid work", and that he aimed to publish the study by the holidays (2018).
Within days of this revelation, two members of Congress who sit on the House Armed Services Committee (Reps. Jackie Speier, D-California, and Ruben Gallego, D-Arizona) sent a letter to Army leaders expressing their anger over the delay. In a press release accompanying the letter to Milley and Esper, Speier said, "This is simply the Army being unwilling to publicly air its mistakes. Our military, Congress, and the American people deserve nothing less than total transparency on the lessons the Army has identified so that we may use those lessons to avoid costly, and too often deadly, mistakes of the past." The two-volume study was published January 17, 2019.
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff
On December 8, 2018, President Donald Trump announced that he would nominate Milley to serve as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, although Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis and then-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Joseph Dunford favored Air Force Chief of Staff General David L. Goldfein for the appointment. Milley had initially been fielded as a candidate to succeed Curtis Scaparrotti as commander of the United States European Command and Supreme Allied Commander Europe, but after interviews with Trump was nominated for the chairmanship instead. Milley's nomination was controversial because Mattis and Dunford favored Goldfein. If Goldfein had been selected, he would have been the Air Force's first chairman since 2005. Though Mattis and Dunford recommended Goldfein, news accounts indicated that Trump chose Milley because he and Milley formed a close relationship during the interview process. With Senate confirmation (89–1) on July 25, he was sworn in on September 30, 2019.
After Milley was nominated, he headed a commission with other American military officials that were responsible for designing a report on the country's impending near-term impacts from climate change. The report, which was released in August 2019, stated that the country and its military could experience a total collapse within the next two decades due to collapses in the country's aging power grid and food supply, as well as the increased risk of infectious disease outbreaks globally. The report also mentions the likelihood of increasing water scarcity in developing countries, which would result in an increase of civil and military conflicts due to failure in the global food system.
After attending 75th anniversary commemorations of the Battle of the Bulge in Belgium and Luxembourg on December 16, 2019, Milley met with the Russian military chief of staff Valery Gerasimov in Bern, Switzerland, on December 18. This continued a series of regular meetings between the American and Russian military chiefs reestablished by Milley's predecessor Joseph Dunford in 2017 to ensure open communication and avoid conflict, especially in Syria. The face-to-face meeting was arranged with the assistance of the incoming Swiss Chief of the Armed Forces Korpskommandant (Lieutenant General) Thomas Süssli.
During Trump's re-election campaign, images of Milley were used in pro-Trump political ads. Milley said he did not give his consent to appear in the ads. Uniformed service members are forbidden from participating in political campaigns (see also Hatch Act and DODD 1344.10).
In June 2021, a report from an Associated Press investigation found that at least 1,900 U.S. military firearms were lost or stolen. Most of the stolen firearms came from the Army; some of the stolen firearms were found in the possession of a gang member, believed to have been sold by the firearms thieves. Reports say that when Milley learned of the scandal, he was shocked, and stated he would consider a more systematic fix on how the military keeps track of its firearms. However, some claim that Milley actually downplayed the report of 1,900 lost or stolen military firearms.
On June 1, 2020, during protests in Washington, D.C., in the wake of the murder of George Floyd, Milley joined National Guardsmen and various police forces assembling in Lafayette Square, across the street from the White House. Minutes later, the troops and police used tear gas and other riot control tactics to disperse protestors. About half an hour after that, Milley, in combat uniform, walked with the president from the White House to the church, drawing sharp criticism from former military officers and others. Milley subsequently refused to testify in front of Congress regarding the military's role in the response to the protests. He reportedly considered resigning over the incident, but chose instead to address it in a video recorded as his commencement address to the National Defense University. In that speech, streamed on June 11, Milley said he should not have been at the event because his presence created a perception of military involvement in domestic politics. Milley testified in front of Congress in July 2020 about the military's role in the George Floyd protests.
On June 23, 2021, Milley attracted notice for telling Florida Republican Congressman Matt Gaetz that he found it "offensive" that the U.S. military was being characterized as "woke" for including "critical race theory" in its West Point curriculum and that he wanted "to understand white rage – and I'm white. What is it that caused thousands of people to assault this building and try to overturn the Constitution of the United States of America?".
On June 30, 2021, former President Trump, who appointed Milley as Chair, called on him to resign, implying that he was unwilling "to defend [the US military] from the Leftist Radicals who hate [the United States] and [its flag]." This came after Milley's defense of studying a broad range of ideas including the politically-controversial critical race theory and news reports that Milley and Trump engaged in a shouting match over military involvement in the 2020-2021 US race protests. Trump previously denied the incident and accused Milley of falsifying it.
Events after 2020 presidential election
On January 12, 2021, Milley and the Joint Chiefs of Staff issued a statement condemning the violent storming of the U.S. Capitol by supporters of Trump and reminding all service members of their obligation to support and defend the Constitution and reject extremism. They said: "As we have done throughout our history, the U.S. military will obey lawful orders from civilian leadership, support civilian authorities to protect lives and property, ensure public safety in accordance with the law, and remain fully committed to protecting and defending the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic."
On April 2, 2021, during an interview regarding the January 6, 2021, incident, Milley said that the military reaction and response were "sprint speed" and "super fast". However, some, such as Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi, doubted his statement, as it seemed to contravene events during the riot at the Capitol on January 6.
After Trump lost his bid for reelection in November 2020, he and his allies took extreme actions in an attempt to overturn the results, presaging the violent attack of the United States Capitol. According to I Alone Can Fix It, a July 2021 book by Washington Post reporters Philip Rucker and Carol Leonnig, Milley became concerned Trump was preparing to stage a coup, and held informal discussions with his deputies about possible ways to thwart it, telling associates, "They may try, but they're not going to fucking succeed. You can't do this without the military. You can't do this without the CIA and the FBI. We're the guys with the guns." The book also quoted Milley saying "this is a Reichstag moment," comparing Trump's attempts to overturn the election to the event used to cement Nazi rule in Germany and referring to Trump's false statements about electoral fraud as "the gospel of the Führer." Milley reportedly told police and military officials preparing to secure Joe Biden's presidential inauguration, "Everyone in this room, whether you’re a cop, whether you’re a soldier, we’re going to stop these guys to make sure we have a peaceful transfer of power. We’re going to put a ring of steel around this city and the Nazis aren’t getting in." Trump later rebuked media reports that Milley feared he would plot a coup, calling the general "one of the last people I would want to do [a coup] with" and stating that he had only made Milley JCS chair to go against his former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and presidential predecessor Barack Obama, both of whom Trump disliked. Trump also wrongly claimed that Obama had fired Milley (Obama actually fired Mattis) as CENTCOM commander.
In their September 2021 book, Peril, Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Robert Costa wrote that after the election Milley had become aware of a Trump military order to withdraw all troops from Afghanistan by January 15, 2021, which had been written by two Trump loyalists without consultation with national security officials. The authors reported that after Trump refused to concede his election loss, CIA director Gina Haspel told Milley, "We are on the way to a right-wing coup" and was worried Trump might attack Iran. In remarks before the Senate Armed Services Committee on September 28, Milley denied that he agreed in a call with Nancy Pelosi that Trump was "crazy" as stated in the book, stating that he was "not qualified to determine the mental health of the president of the United States."
Conference calls with Chinese general
According to Axios, in mid-2020 Pentagon officials were concerned about the Chinese having received bad intelligence from dubious sources that had them worried about a possible surprise U.S. strike against China. In mid-October, Defense Secretary Mark Esper directed his policy office to reassure China through backchannel communications that there was no intention of seeking a confrontation. At Esper's direction, Milley followed up with a call to his Chinese counterpart on October 30.
In Woodward and Costa's book Peril, the authors wrote that on October 30, 2020, four days before the U.S. presidential election day, Milley called his counterpart in China, General Li Zuocheng, quoting Milley as saying: "I want to assure you that the American government is stable and everything is going to be okay ... We are not going to attack or conduct any kinetic operations against you ... If we're going to attack, I'm going to call you ahead of time. It's not going to be a surprise." The authors wrote that Milley again called Li in January 2021, two days after the 2021 United States Capitol attack, quoting Milley as saying: "Things may look unsteady... But that's the nature of democracy... We are 100 percent steady. Everything's fine. But democracy can be sloppy sometimes." Unnamed defense department officials said a top Pentagon policy official, Deputy Assistant Defense Secretary for China Chad Sbragia, had called his Chinese counterpart two days earlier, with the authorization of then-acting secretary of defense Christopher C. Miller. One briefed on Milley's call said that it was "implausible that [Milley's call] would have been done without" Sbragia's knowledge.
Both calls were by video conference where fifteen people were present, including a State Department representative and notetakers. CNN reported that Milley consulted with Esper in conducting the October call. Politico reported that a former senior defense official said Milley asked Miller for permission to make the January call, and that Miller said Milley "almost certainly" informed him about making the call, but he did not recall receiving a detailed readout afterwards. On the same day, he told Fox News that he did not authorize the call and called for Milley to resign or be fired, stating, "If the reporting in Woodward's book is accurate it represents a disgraceful and unprecedented act of insubordination by the Nation's top military officer."
Two days later he told CNN that "he likely would not have been informed of such routine engagements that either his office or Milley would have had with China" and that he was criticizing the call in October, not the one in January. At a congressional hearing on September 28, 2021, Milley testified that both calls were coordinated with the staffs of Esper and Miller both before and after they were made. The Wall Street Journal reported Pentagon officials said Miller had been apprised of the call. Milley's spokesman stated, "All calls from the Chairman to his counterparts, including those reported, are staffed, coordinated and communicated with the Department of Defense and the interagency."
Milley stated that the calls were "routine calls ... in order to ensure strategic stability" and "perfectly within the duties and responsibilities of the chairman." In hearings before the Senate and House Armed Services committees on September 28 and 29, respectively, Milley said he did not intend to undermine Trump with the calls, adding that he "was communicating to my Chinese counterpart on instructions, by the way, to de-escalate the situation" and that Trump "has no intent to attack and I told [General Li] that repeatedly." After the January 6 storming of the U.S. Capitol Milley also spoke to other military leaders around the world, including in the United Kingdom, to reassure them "that the U.S. government was strong and in control."
Pentagon meeting on procedure for launching nuclear weapons
Woodward and Costa also wrote that after the attack on the Capitol Milley became concerned Trump might "go rogue", telling staff "You never know what a president's trigger point is". According to the book, he took extraordinary action to protect national security by insisting he be personally consulted about any military action orders by Trump, including the use of nuclear weapons, and instructed the directors of the CIA and NSA to be particularly attentive to developments. This was perceived by some former officials and outside analysts as "inserting himself inappropriately into the chain of command." On January 8, Milley assured House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) in a call that "the nuclear triggers are secure and we're not going to do — we're not going to allow anything crazy, illegal, immoral, or unethical to happen."
Reactions to Milley's actions
Milley's reported comments and actions have drawn criticism from multiple Republicans. Trump described Woodward and Costa's reporting as "fake news" and "fabricated", stating that he "never even thought of attacking China". Trump also said that if the reporting was true, then Trump believed Milley should be "tried for treason" for talking to Li "behind the President's back and telling China that he would be giving them notification" of an American attack. Senate Intelligence Committee ranking member Marco Rubio called on Biden to fire Milley, stating that Milley had undermined "the sitting commander in chief" and "contemplated a treasonous leak of classified information to the CCP in advance of a potential armed conflict with the PRC." Many Republicans accused Milley of treason and called for his resignation, firing, or court-martial. Alexander Vindman said that Milley needed to resign if it was true that he broke the chain of command. 27 House Republicans, all members of the Freedom Caucus, wrote to Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin demanding an Army Regulation 15-6 investigation into Milley's actions and for Milley's security clearance to be suspended.
Historian and Brookings Institution senior fellow Max Boot wrote that "Milley had no choice but to do what he did." He also wrote that "Trump, Rubio and all the rest of the rabid partisans who accused a decorated combat veteran of treason based on a hasty misreading of a book excerpt" needed to retract their statements and apologize. White House press secretary Jen Psaki said that President Biden had worked closely with Milley and considered him to be a patriot. Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby stated that Milley had the trust and confidence of Austin. Senate Judiciary Committee chair Dick Durbin said that "he had no concerns that Milley might have exceeded his authority" and that Democratic lawmakers "were circumspect in our language but many of us made it clear that we were counting on him to avoid the disaster which we knew could happen at any moment." President Biden later said he had "great confidence" in Milley. Senator Angus King stated that Milley had "rendered the country a significant service," and Senate Committee on Armed Services chair Jack Reed told reporters that "de-escalating international tensions was part of Milley's job." Former United Nations ambassador and Trump national security advisor John Bolton defended Milley as a "staunch supporter of the Constitution and the rule of law."
2021 Taliban offensive and fall of Kabul
Soon after the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan started, the Taliban launched an offensive against the Afghan government, quickly advancing in front of a collapsing Afghan Armed Forces; according to a U.S. intelligence report, the Afghan government would likely collapse within six months after NATO completes its withdrawal from the country. On July 21, 2021, Milley reported that half of all districts in Afghanistan were under Taliban control and that momentum was "sort of" on the side with the Taliban.
Following the withdrawal, the Taliban began its campaign to overthrow the Afghanistan government in Kabul. The city was ultimately besieged by the Taliban and fell to their control on August 15, 2021, resulting in mass panic among Afghan citizens attempting to flee the country, particularly those who had assisted the United States occupation. Thousands of Afghan citizens surged into Kabul Airport in a desperate attempt to leave the city, with some even attempting to grab on to a military transport as it took off, falling to their deaths minutes later. Milley later denied knowing about the imminent fall of Kabul or having seen intelligence indicating the position of the Taliban to be stronger than believed.
In December 2020, Milley met with the Taliban in Doha in an effort to arrange peace talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government. Milley believed that U.S. troops should remain in Afghanistan to prevent another terrorist attack like the September 11 attacks.
On August 26, 2021, following the suicide bombing at Kabul International Airport that led to the death of 183 people, including 13 United States service members, Republican Senators and members of the House called for the resignation of President Biden, Vice President Harris, Secretary of State Blinken, Defense Secretary Austin, and Milley.
In late September 2021, Milley, at hearings before both the Senate and House Armed Services Committees said that the withdrawal from Afghanistan and evacuation from Kabul was "a logistical success but a strategic failure", but rejected demands from Republican committee members to resign over its handling.
Milley has deployed for various military operations, including:
- Multinational Force and Observers, Sinai, Egypt
- Operation Just Cause, Panama
- Operation Uphold Democracy, Haiti
- Operation Joint Endeavor, Bosnia-Herzegovina
- Operation Iraqi Freedom, Iraq
- Operation Enduring Freedom, Afghanistan
Awards and decorations
General Milley has received the following awards:
|Expert Infantryman Badge|
|10 Overseas Service Bars|
During the 2020 Veterans Day ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery, Hollyanne Milley saved the life of a veteran who had collapsed. According to reports, "nursing has a tradition in the Milley family," with General Milley's mother, Linda Milley, whom he had described as a "break-the-glass-ceiling" type of woman, having served as a nurse with the Navy's WAVES in World War II.
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