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Get to Know 'Fighting Joe,' Obama's Pick for Top Military Officer

Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford Jr., Obama's pick for the next top military officer, was once described as "the damn epitome of a Marine leader."

The president's nominee for chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff has a reputation as tough on the battlefield and gentle off of it.

If he is confirmed by the Senate, Gen. Joseph Dunford Jr., 59, will be just the second Marine to serve in the top U.S. military leadership role.

"He is one of the most admired officers in our military," President Barack Obama said Tuesday when he introduced Dunford as his nominee. "I've been extraordinarily impressed with him."

Here are a few facts about Dunford, once described as "the damn epitome of a Marine leader."

Experience earned him his nickname.

Dunford's most visible roles have been in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Prior to being commandant of the Marine Corps, he served as top U.S. military commander in Afghanistan for a year and a half, overseeing the drawdown of American troops.

In the Iraq war, he commanded the Marine regiment that led the 2003 invasion. It was during his 22 months in Iraq that he earned the nickname "Fighting Joe," as his Marines relied on limited resources to fight in poor weather.

Dunford began his career as an infantry officer and has commanded at all levels. It took him only three years to jump from a one-star general to four stars.

He's known for keeping his cool under pressure. Gen. James Mattis, a retired commander of American forces in the Midde East, told The New York Times he once saw a grenade pass over Dunford's Humvee in Iraq and explode 100 yards away.

“He barely glanced up and then went right back to writing his orders,” Mattis told The Times.

He writes personalized notes — lots of them.

It's not just his battlefield success that earned him a spot on Fortune magazine's 2014 list of the world's 50 greatest contemporary leaders: Dunford is determined to show the armed forces and their families how much he cares.

As the leader of NATO's coalition in Afghanistan, Dunford wrote a personal letter of condolence to the family of every U.S. servicemember killed in Afghanistan, and attempted to write them for troops of the other 48 nations that make up the International Security Assistance Force.

"He's the damn epitome of a Marine leader," Retired Sgt. Maj. Carlton Kent, who served with Dunford in Iraq and at the Pentagon, once told the Marine Corps Times.

He works to get Marines to trust him, and each other.

As assistant commandant from 2010 to 2012, Dunford spearheaded programs targeting problems that threatened unit cohesion among his Marines, including hazing and alcohol abuse, and helping Marines charged with DUI to get treatment. Faced with serious budget cuts, he told a congressional hearing that troops' compensation packages shouldn't be reduced.

“If we break the trust of our Marines, sailors, soldiers and airmen today, it will be decades before we get it back,” he said last year.

He's a Red Sox fan.

Dunford grew up in Boston, the son of a police officer. He went to Saint Michael's College in Vermont and got master's degrees from Tufts University and Georgetown University, but he never forgot his Boston roots, no matter how far he traveled. The Boston Globe reported in 2013 that two Red Sox hats hung in Dunford's Kabul, Afghanistan, office. Besides baseball, Dunford has an interest in running marathons.

Dunford would replace Army Gen. Martin Dempsey in October if he is confirmed.