Adm. Vern Clark, the Navy’s top officer, said Monday he will retire this summer after five years as chief of naval operations — the second-longest tenure in the history of the Navy.
“It is our view that it is about time to turn over the reins to the next generation,” Clark, 60, told reporters at a conference in Alexandria, Va., according to a Navy transcript of his remarks.
He started in the job July 21, 2000, three months before the terrorist attack on the USS Cole in Aden, Yemen, which killed 17 sailors. He has been considered an innovative leader who has fundamentally altered the way the Navy maintains the combat readiness of its 12 aircraft carriers.
The Sioux City, Iowa, native said he has submitted his retirement papers but not set a specific date. The only Navy chief to serve longer was Adm. Arleigh Burke, from August 1955 to August 1961.
Clark was commissioned in the Navy in August 1968.
Navy Secretary Gordon England, commenting on Clark’s announcement, said: “He is a visionary leader, an outstanding colleague and a man of deep faith. I have been privileged to serve with a leader of great integrity who is also a valued and respected friend.”
A chief of naval operations normally serves for four years, but in the summer of 2003 — one year before Clark’s term was to end — Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld took the unusual step of asking Clark to extend his service. Congress passed a law permitting him to be reappointed for up to two years, which means Clark could have stayed in the job until July 2006.
Clark said his decision to leave this summer instead of next summer did not reflect any dissatisfaction. “This is about the right time to go,” he said. “And frankly, you know this is a challenging job. Five years is a long time, and I think five years is about the right time.”
The Pentagon, meanwhile, said Vice Adm. Robert F. Willard has been nominated for appointment to the rank of admiral and assignment as vice chief of naval operations. He would replace Adm. John B. Nathman, who has been nominated for assignment as commander of U. S. Fleet Forces Command.
Nathman would replace Adm. William J. Fallon, who has been nominated to be the next commander of U.S. Pacific Command.