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Eric Shinseki
Eric Shinseki official Veterans Affairs portrait.jpg
Shinseki in 2009
7th United States Secretary of Veterans Affairs
In office
January 21, 2009 – May 30, 2014
President Barack Obama
Deputy W. Scott Gould
Sloan D. Gibson
Preceded by James Peake
Succeeded by Bob McDonald
34th Chief of Staff of the United States Army
In office
June 21, 1999 – June 11, 2003
President Bill Clinton
George W. Bush
Preceded by Dennis Reimer
Succeeded by Peter Schoomaker
28th Vice Chief of Staff of the United States Army
In office
November 24, 1998 – June 21, 1999
President Bill Clinton
Preceded by William W. Crouch
Succeeded by Jack Keane
Personal details
Born (1942-11-28) November 28, 1942 (age 81)
Lihue, Hawaii, U.S.
Spouse Patricia Shinseki
Children 2
Education United States Military Academy (BS)
Duke University (MA)
Military service
Allegiance United States
Branch/service United States Army
Years of service 1965–2003
Rank General
Commands Chief of Staff of the United States Army
Vice Chief of Staff of the United States Army
Seventh United States Army
Allied Land Forces Central Europe
NATO Stabilization Force in Bosnia and Herzegovina
1st Cavalry Division
2nd Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division
3rd Squadron, 7th Cavalry Regiment, 3rd Infantry Division
3rd Squadron, 5th Cavalry Regiment, 9th Infantry Division
Battles/wars Vietnam War
Bosnian War
Awards Defense Distinguished Service Medal (2)
Army Distinguished Service Medal (2)
Navy Distinguished Service Medal
Air Force Distinguished Service Medal
Coast Guard Distinguished Service Medal
Legion of Merit (2)
Bronze Star Medal (3)
Purple Heart (2)

Eric Ken Shinseki (/ʃɪnˈsɛki/; Japanese: 新関 健, romanizedShinseki Ken, born November 28, 1942) is a retired United States Army general who served as the seventh United States Secretary of Veterans Affairs (2009–2014) and the 34th Chief of Staff of the Army (1999–2003). Shinseki is a veteran of two tours of combat in the Vietnam War, in which he was awarded three Bronze Star Medals for valor and two Purple Hearts. He was the first Asian-American four-star general, and the first Asian-American Secretary of Veterans Affairs.

Early life and education

Shinseki 1965
Shinseki at West Point in 1965

Shinseki was born in Lihue, Kauaʻi, in the then Territory of Hawaii, to an American family of Japanese ancestry. His grandparents emigrated from Hiroshima to Hawaii in 1901. He grew up in a sugarcane plantation community on Kaua'i and graduated from Kaua'i High and Intermediate School in 1960. While attending Kaua'i he was active in the Boy Scouts and served as class president. As a boy, Shinseki learned that three of his uncles had served in the 442nd Infantry Regiment, a unit of Japanese Americans that became one of the most decorated fighting units in United States history. Motivated by his uncles' example, he attended the United States Military Academy and graduated in 1965 with a Bachelor of Science degree and a commission as a second lieutenant. He earned a Master of Arts degree in English Literature from Duke University in 1974. He was also educated at the Armor Officer Advanced Course, the United States Army Command and General Staff College, and the National War College of National Defense University.

Military service

Lieutenant General Eric K. Shinseki is promoted to General DA-SC-00-00054 (6507404)
Shinseki is pinned with the rank of general by Army chief of staff Dennis Reimer and his wife Patty in July 1997.
Gen Eric Shinseki official portrait
A 2003 portrait of Shinseki

Shinseki served in a variety of command and staff assignments in the Continental United States and overseas, including two combat tours with the 9th and 25th Infantry Divisions in the Republic of Vietnam as an artillery forward observer and as commander of Troop A, 3rd Squadron, 5th Cavalry Regiment during the Vietnam War. During one of those tours while serving as a forward artillery observer, he stepped on a land mine, which blew the front off one of his feet; after spending almost a year recovering from his injuries, he returned to active duty in 1971.

Shinseki has served at Schofield Barracks, Hawai'i, with Headquarters, United States Army Hawaii, and Fort Shafter with Headquarters, United States Army Pacific. He has taught at the U.S. Military Academy's Department of English. During duty with the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment at Fort Bliss, Texas, he served as the regimental adjutant and as the executive officer of its 1st Squadron.

Shinseki's ten-plus years of service in Europe included assignments as Commander, 3rd Squadron, 7th Cavalry, 3rd Infantry Division (Schweinfurt); Commander, 2nd Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division (Kitzingen); Assistant Chief of Staff, G3, 3rd Infantry Division (Operations, Plans and Training) (Würzburg); and Assistant Division Commander for Maneuver, 3rd Infantry Division (Schweinfurt). The 3rd Division was organized at that time as a heavy mechanized division. He also served as Assistant Chief of Staff, G3 (Operations, Plans, and Training), VII Corps (Stuttgart). Shinseki served as Deputy Chief of Staff for Support, Allied Land Forces Southern Europe (Verona), an element of the Allied Forces Southern Europe.

From March 1994 to July 1995, Shinseki commanded the 1st Cavalry Division at Fort Hood, Texas. In July 1996, he was promoted to lieutenant general and became Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations and Plans, United States Army. In June 1997, Shinseki was appointed to the rank of general before assuming duties as Commanding General, Seventh United States Army; Commander, Allied Land Forces Central Europe; and Commander, NATO Stabilization Force in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Shinseki became the Army's 28th Vice Chief of Staff on November 24, 1998, then became its 34th Chief of Staff on June 22, 1999, the last Vietnam War veteran to hold the post. Shinseki retired on June 11, 2003, at the end of his four-year term. His Farewell Memo contained some of his ideas regarding the future of the military. At that time, General Shinseki retired from the Army after 38 years of military service.

As of 2009, Shinseki was the highest-ranked Asian American in the history of the United States. Additionally, as of 2004, he is the highest-ranked Japanese American to have served in the United States Armed Forces.

Army Chief of Staff

Senator Thurmond 100th Birthday
Shinseki as Army Chief of Staff thanks Senator Strom Thurmond for his service to the country during his 100th birthday celebration on December 4, 2002.

During his tenure as Army Chief of Staff, Shinseki initiated an innovative but controversial plan to make the army more strategically deployable and mobile in urban terrain by creating Stryker Interim-Force Brigade Combat Teams. He conceived a long-term strategic plan for the army dubbed "Objective Force", which included a program he designed, Future Combat Systems. One other controversial plan that Shinseki implemented was the wearing of the black beret for all army personnel. Prior to Shinseki implementing this policy, only the United States Army Rangers could wear the black beret. When the black beret was given to all soldiers and officers, the Rangers moved to the tan beret.

Shinseki publicly clashed with Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld during the planning of the war in Iraq over how many troops the United States would need to keep in Iraq for the postwar occupation of that country. As Army Chief of Staff, Shinseki testified to the United States Senate Committee on Armed Services on February 25, 2003, that "something in the order of several hundred thousand soldiers" would probably be required for postwar Iraq. This was an estimate far higher than the figure being proposed by Secretary Rumsfeld in his invasion plan, and it was rejected in strong language by both Rumsfeld and his Deputy Secretary of Defense, Paul Wolfowitz, who was another chief planner of the invasion and occupation. From then on, Shinseki's influence on the Joint Chiefs of Staff reportedly waned. Critics of the Bush administration alleged that Shinseki was forced into early retirement as Army Chief of Staff because of his comments on troop levels; however, his retirement was announced nearly a year before those comments.

When the insurgency took hold in postwar Iraq, Shinseki's comments and their public rejection by the civilian leadership were often cited by those who felt the Bush administration deployed too few troops to Iraq. On November 15, 2006, in testimony before Congress, CENTCOM Commander General John Abizaid said that Shinseki had been correct that more troops were needed.

Post-military career

Barack Obama signs S.1055 2010-10-05 1
President Barack Obama and guests at signing of bill to grant Congressional Gold Medal to 100th Infantry Battalion and 442nd Regimental Combat Team in recognition of their World War II service. Shinseki is at the far right.

Shinseki has served as a director for several corporations: Honeywell International and Ducommun, military contractors; Grove Farm Corporation; First Hawaiian Bank; and Guardian Life Insurance Company of America. He is a member of the Advisory Boards at the Center for Public Leadership, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, and to the U.S. Comptroller General. He is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, the Atlantic Council of the United States, and the Association of the United States Army.

United States Secretary of Veterans Affairs (2009–2014)

On December 7, 2008, then-President-elect Barack Obama announced at a press conference in Chicago that he would nominate Shinseki to become the Secretary of Veterans Affairs. Shinseki was unanimously confirmed by the United States Senate on January 20, 2009, and sworn in the next day.


Shinseki is married to his high school sweetheart, Patricia; they are the parents of two children, Lori and Ken. He also has seven grandchildren.

Awards, decorations, and badges

Shinseki was awarded the following medals, ribbons, badges, and tabs:

Bronze oak leaf cluster
Defense Distinguished Service Medal (with one oak leaf cluster)
Bronze oak leaf cluster
Army Distinguished Service Medal (with one oak leaf cluster)
Navy Distinguished Service Medal
Air Force Distinguished Service Medal
Coast Guard Distinguished Service Medal
Bronze oak leaf cluster
Legion of Merit (with Oak Leaf Cluster)
Bronze oak leaf cluster
Bronze oak leaf cluster
Bronze Star (with "V" Device and two Oak Leaf Clusters)
Bronze oak leaf cluster
Purple Heart (with Oak Leaf Cluster)
Defense Meritorious Service Medal
Bronze oak leaf cluster
Bronze oak leaf cluster
Meritorious Service Medal (with two Oak Leaf Clusters)
Air Medal
Bronze oak leaf cluster
Army Commendation Medal (with Oak Leaf Cluster)
Army Achievement Medal
Bronze star
Width=44 scarlet ribbon with a central width-4 golden yellow stripe, flanked by pairs of width-1 scarlet, white, Old Glory blue, and white stripes
National Defense Service Medal with Service star
Bronze star
Bronze star
Bronze star
Bronze star
Vietnam Service Medal with four Service stars
Armed Forces Service Medal
Army Service Ribbon
Army Overseas Service Ribbon
NATO Medal for Former Yugoslavia
Vietnam Campaign Medal
Order of Military Merit (Grand Officer; Brazil)
US Army Airborne basic parachutist badge.gif Parachutist Badge
Ranger Tab.svg Ranger Tab
Office of the Secretary of Defense Identification Badge.png Office of the Secretary of Defense Identification Badge
Joint Chiefs of Staff seal.svg Joint Chiefs of Staff Identification Badge
United States Army Staff Identification Badge.png Army Staff Identification Badge
ArmyOSB.svg Four Overseas Service Bars

See also

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