Short list firm for assistant commandant of the Marine Corps

It’s down to just a few top candidates who are being considered to replace Gen. Joseph Dunford as assistant commandant of the Marine Corps, the service’s No. 2-ranking officer, sources told the E-Ring on Wednesday.

Dunford was officially tapped on Wednesday to take over the Afghanistan war from Gen. John Allen, leaving his coveted and powerful slot at Marine Corps Barracks in Washington.

The leading contenders to fill his boots are Lt. Gen. George Flynn, currently the J-7, or director of plans for the Joint Chiefs of Staff; Lt. Gen John Paxton, currently commanding U.S. Marine Corps Forces Command; or the long shot, Lt. Gen. Robert “Rooster” Schmidle, deputy commandant for aviation.

Multiple sources tell FP’s National Security channel that these three names are the most heard in top circles, and the choice most discussed is among them.

Topping the list is Flynn, a Naval Academy graduate with three master’s degrees and a significant service pedigree, including as deputy commanding general of Multi-National Corps-Iraq in 2008 and as a chief of staff inside U.S. Special Operations Command. He knows Washington, planning, ground combat, the Middle East, and SOF.

Paxton (pictured above) is the other top candidate and holds three job titles. He is commander of U.S. Marine Corps Forces Command, commanding general of Fleet Marine Force Atlantic, and the commander of U.S. Marine Corps Forces Europe. Previously, he was commanding general of the II Marine Expeditionary Force, and commander of U.S. Marine Forces Africa. Paxton has extensive experience in the highest ranks of the military, as a former J-3, or director of operations for the Joint Staff, and was chief of staff for MNF-I in Baghdad.

If history is a guide, there are some unwritten protocols for filling the ACMC slot. Traditionally, the commandant was always a “ground guy,” a senior military official told the E-Ring, while the job of assistant commandant often went to an aviator, for balance.

Gen. James Amos, the current commandant, is the first aviator to hold the top rank. If you believe it’s unlikely another aviator would get the 2nd spot, then cross Schmidle off your list.

There are other considerations, though. “Usually they want someone who knows their way around the Beltway, knows how the money works, knows how the budget process works,” said the official.

Under that requirement, all three have the chops. Schmidle has held the posts of deputy commander for U.S. Cyber Command, a field of critical importance to the Pentagon and the administration. He also was assistant deputy commandant of the Marine Corps for Programs and Resources (Programs) and worked on the 2008 Quadrennial Defense Review, giving him more than enough budget chops to deal with Congress.

According to the sources, its unclear how close the Marine Corps is to making its decision.

U.S. Marine Corps photo by Gunnery Sgt. Chad R. Kiehl/Released