Biden Administration Nominates 1st Female Secretary of the Army

April 14, 2021James R. Webb
Christine Wormuth secretary of the army nominee defense

Then US Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Christine Wormuth (front left) greets U.S. Army Command Sgt. Maj. Roger Parker, Train, Advise and Assist Command – South (TAAC-S) at Kandahar Airfield in Kandahar, Afghanistan July 1, 2015. Wormuth met with leaders in Afghanistan and visited TAAC-S to discuss the progress of the NATO-led Resolute Support mission. US military photo by Lt. Kristine Volk, Resolute Support Public Affairs/Released.

President Joe Biden nominated Christine Wormuth to be the 25th secretary of the Army Monday. The nomination marks the first time a woman has been nominated to the position. Wormuth is currently the director of the Rand Corp. International Security and Defense Policy Center. 

While Wormuth has decades of policy experience both in government and private think tanks, she does not have explicit experience working with Congress or a history of service in the military. Prior service is not a requirement for the position, and if confirmed, she would be the sixth overall secretary of the Army who is not a military veteran, and the fifth since 2004.

Army Department of Defense nominee for secretary of the Army Christine Wormuth
Christine Wormuth, who was nominated Monday, April 12, 2021, to be the first female secretary of the Army. Department of Defense photo/released.

“As Secretary of the Army she will be expected to do three main things: be an effective communicator about the value of land power, to forge an effective relationship with Congress, and to lead change in the Army. Since Ms. Wormuth does not have experience working in Congress or directly with land power, she will need to continue to develop those aspects,” said Thomas Spoehr, director of The Heritage Foundation’s Center for National Defense.

While some defense experts noted the benefits of bringing military experience to the position, they also said Wormuth’s breadth of experience working on policy in government and the private sector would be a benefit. 

“Like nearly all Biden nominees, she is deeply experienced in national security issues and will bring that expertise to the Army,” Mark Cancian, a senior adviser with the Center for Strategic and International Studies, International Security Program, said. “Her policy background may be particularly helpful in connecting the Army to broader national security goals. However, she will need to gain the Army’s trust because she has no particular connection with the Army, unlike the Army secretaries during the Trump years who had deep roots in the Army.”

Wormuth brings considerable experience to both developing and implementing defense policy. A senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in 2007, she served as the staff director for the Independent Commission on the Security Forces of Iraq, also known as the Jones Commission. Following a return to government in 2009, Wormuth was both a member of the National Security Council and led the DOD’s 2014 Quadrennial Defense Review.

wormuth army defense
US Navy Adm. James A. Winnefeld Jr., front left, then vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Christine Wormuth, then deputy undersecretary of defense for strategy, plans, and force development, appear before the House Armed Services Committee at the Rayburn House Office Building in Washington, April 3, 2014, during a hearing about the 2014 Quadrennial Defense Review. US Army photo by Staff Sgt. Sean K. Harp/released.

After being confirmed as undersecretary of defense for policy in 2014, Wormuth worked closely with current Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin while he was commander of Central Command. The two worked closely together on both the Obama administration’s “pivot to Asia” and in shaping the military’s counter-ISIS campaign. Both Austin and Wormuth faced backlash over a $500 million program to train Syrian “moderates,” which ultimately failed to have the intended results.

Overall, experts in Washington believe Wormuth’s deep experience in shaping defense policy will be positive for an Army in transition. Over the last three years, the Army has been realigning its equipment and mission to focus on threats such as China and Russia — a challenge some believe Wormuth is uniquely qualified to tackle.

“Christine is a respected known commodity in policy circles, and she’ll hit the ground running on her first day,” Mackenzie Eaglen, a defense expert at the American Enterprise Institute, said. “She doesn’t need to do a lot of ‘homework’ to help lead the Army, and she has worked closely with many senior Pentagon civilians already and for years. This puts the Army in a stronger position to have a seat at the table, to tell its story to decision makers, and have more influence in general as a result.”

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James R. Webb
James R. Webb

James Webb served as a US Marine infantryman from 2005 to 2010, completing a combat tour in Iraq. He’s worked as a freelance writer and photojournalist covering US troops in Afghanistan, and Webb spent more than two years in the US Senate as a military legislative assistant and as the personal representative of a member on the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

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