US President-elect Barack Obama nominated retired Gen. Eric Shinseki as the next secretary of veterans affairs.
Obama made the official nomination at a press conference in his transition office headquarters in Chicago, Illinois, which made Shinseki, who has Japanese ancestry, the first Asian American to lead the second biggest department in the country.
"I think that Gen. Shinseki is exactly the right person who is going to be able to make sure that we honor our troops when they come home," Obama said in an interview with NBC TV earlier the day.
"He has agreed that he is willing to be part of this administration because both he and I share a reverence for those who serve," he said of the 66-year-old four-star general.
Born in Hawaii to a Japanese American family, Shinseki graduated from the West Point Military Academy in 1965 and has served in a variety of command and staff assignments both at home and abroad.
He served as the Army Chief of Staff from 1999 to 2003, which was featured by his constant tensions with the then defense secretary, Donald Rumsfeld.
At a congressional hearing in 2003, Shinseki said that it might take several hundred thousand US troops to control Iraq after the invasion, which, however, was dismissed by Rumsfeld as "wildly off the mark."
However, he has been cited by many retired Army officers and media as an example of Rumsfeld's disregard for military advice and treatment of senior officers.
Obama told media that he selected Shinseki for the VA post because he "was right" in predicting that the US will need more troops in Iraq than Rumsfeld believed at the time.
"When I reflect on the sacrifices that have been made by our veterans and I think about how so many veterans around the country are struggling even more than those who have not served -- higher unemployment rates, higher homeless rates, higher substance abuse rates, medical care that is inadequate -- it breaks my heart," he said.
His nomination was welcomed by veteran groups and lawmakers even before it was officially announced.
"I have great respect for General Shinseki's judgment and abilities," said Akaka, chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, in a statement.
"I am confident that he will use his wisdom and experience to ensure that our veterans receive the respect and care they have earned in defense of our nation. President-elect Obama is selecting a team that reflects our nation's greatest strength, its diversity, and I applaud him."
Paul Rieckhoff, executive director of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, also told US media that Shinseki is a man "that has always put patriotism ahead of politics, and is held in high regard by veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan".
(Xinhua News Agency December 8, 2008)