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Undersecretary could replace outgoing McHugh

Mar. 4, 2013 - 07:51AM   |   Last Updated: Mar. 4, 2013 - 07:51AM  |  
Joseph Westphal, the Army undersecretary, has been mentioned as a candidate to become secretary, if John McHugh steps down.
Joseph Westphal, the Army undersecretary, has been mentioned as a candidate to become secretary, if John McHugh steps down. (Staff)
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Now that Chuck Hagel has been confirmed and sworn in as defense secretary, names are emerging for who might become his top lieutenants as service secretaries and undersecretaries.

Army Secretary John McHugh is expected to step down at some point during President Obama's second term, according to defense sources. Joseph Westphal, the current Army undersecretary, has been mentioned as a candidate to become secretary.

Westphal was the secretary of the Army once before, in 2011, when he was appointed as acting secretary from March to May.

Before that, he served as assistant secretary of the Army for civil works from 1998 to 2001, in addition to many years in academia and as a policy adviser for the Environment Protection Agency during the Clinton administration. He served on Obama's transition team for defense matters before his current post.

In May 2012, Westphal sat down with Army Times to discuss the issues he has dealt with as the Army's No. 2 civilian, which could give some insight as to what he would pursue if appointed to the No. 1 position.

He spoke on sequestration, a show to which he could have a front-row seat if appointed secretary of the Army.

He also discussed an Army task force to study behavioral diagnoses from 2001 to the present, focusing on the Army's evaluation and managing of post-traumatic stress disorder.

"We put men and women in harm's way; we asked them to make incredible sacrifices for our country, and when they come back, if they're wounded or ill, or whatever happens to them, we need to take care of them," Westphal said. "If we start putting economics ahead of that … how are we going to count on people in the future to put their lives on the line for us? How are we going to count on a force that will trust that we have their interests in hand?"

McHugh has also focused on mental health care as secretary. In February, he visited Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., where he discussed plans to overhaul the Army's mental health system, streamlining the disability evaluation system and integrating the service's many resilience programs into soldiers' daily training.

He's also known for lightening the mood. At a recent Hall of Heroes induction ceremony for Medal of Honor recipient Staff Sgt. Clinton L. Romesha, which happened to fall on Romesha's wedding anniversary, McHugh made sure to point out that the Pentagon has its own in-house florist, chocolate shop and jewelry store, should Romesha need a few last-minute gifts.

McHugh was a Republican congressman from New York when he became secretary of the Army in September 2009. Although he never served in the Army, he grew up in Watertown, N.Y. — Fort Drum's backyard — and was elected to nine terms as that district's representative.

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