Rear Adm. John Kirby briefs the press at the Pentagon, on Sept. 19, 2014.

Rear Adm. John Kirby briefs the press at the Pentagon, on Sept. 19, 2014. DoD photo by Master Sgt. Adrian Cadiz, U.S. Air Force

Pentagon Press Secretary Kirby To Be Replaced by a Civilian

The familiar 2-star admiral will step down as Defense Secretary Ash Carter looks for a civilian mouthpiece.

Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby will step down in the next couple weeks to be replaced by a civilian spokesman for new Defense Secretary Ash Carter.

Kirby was rumored to be leaving as Pentagon press secretary for some weeks after it was announced that Carter would be the next Pentagon chief, and on Wednesday he confirmed a report that he would step down and be replaced by a civilian.

Pentagon leaders do not expect to name a replacement for Kirby anytime soon, and Kirby told reporters Wednesday that he wasn’t aware of Carter’s plans to name a new spokesperson.

Carter may have wanted to pick his spokesperson, but Carter’s decision to replace Kirby appeared to be more based on the fact that the admiral is a member of the military, and not due to concerns about his performance as a press secretary. Widely liked by reporters, Kirby was seen as a credible mouthpiece for the Pentagon, someone who wasn’t inclined to spin reporters as much as inform them.

But that may have been part of the reason Carter wants a civilian to take his place. U.S. service members are expected to be apolitical, and so having a spokesperson who is in uniform was seen by some as problematic. Critics, which included other military officers inside the Pentagon as well as civilians outside the Pentagon, believed that the White House viewed having someone in uniform defend its policies gave them more credibility. Others thought that Kirby was used as a political pawn and that over time it could not only blur the lines between civil-military relations but make the military look weak for defending potentially unpopular policies. Kirby, who has served 28 years in the military and received his second star in May, was in the awkward position Wednesday of having to defend his current boss’s decision to replace him.

(Related: Watch Rear. Adm John Kirby's Interview at Defense One Summit

“I think [Carter] comes to the job wanting to sort of revisit the role of spokesman here, and one of the questions that I think he wants to rhetorically ask and consider is not just who the individual is, but what that individual represents, and whether it's appropriate or not to have a uniform up here,” Kirby told reporters Wednesday. “And those are fair questions for him to ask as he comes into the job.”

Uniformed officers have served as principal spokesmen for the Pentagon in the past, but not in the same way. Kirby has served as Pentagon press secretary, speaking as the chief spokesperson for Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, who left the job last week after being forced out by the White House, and for the U.S. military.

Kirby previously served as spokesman for then-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen and later in the Office of the Secretary of Defense.

During his tenure, Kirby said he had always been careful to steer clear of politics.

“I can’t say that there haven't been some questions that obviously have tried to veer me into political discussions,” Kirby said. “I knew that when I took this job that that was a potential. But they've been few and very, very far between.”

Last week, a reporter for Fox News, James Rosen, asked Kirby if troop morale had sagged under President Barack Obama as commander in chief in what amounted to a question that could force Kirby to provide a political answer. Kirby attempted to answer the question but appeared not to take the bait.

“I am not going to get drawn into a political debate here. I just -- you're asking the wrong guy,” Kirby said in the briefing room. “I've been in the Navy 28 years and I've served under many presidents, and I can tell you that speaking for myself, it doesn't matter to me who sits in that office. That doesn't change the way I do my job.”

But Carter, who made a point during public testimony that he wanted to underscore the chain of command – and therefore civilian oversight of the U.S. military – wanted to go a different way with spokesman.

It’s unclear yet if Kirby will retire from the military or if the Navy would offer him a position elsewhere. Unlike some other services, which select individuals from other jobs to serve as senior public affairs officers, the Navy grooms spokespeople to serve in those jobs for what can be their entire career. But there are very few places inside the Navy for a two-star admiral with a communications background. Kirby, who had served as the Chief of Navy Information, or CHINFO, wouldn’t return to that office since Rear Adm. Dawn Cutler was promoted to that position last year. 

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.