WASHINGTON — Former Texas Rep. Pete Geren, who has served as a quiet but effective Pentagon troubleshooter since the early days of the Bush administration, became the 20th secretary of the Army on Friday after his nomination was unanimously confirmed by the Senate.
Geren, who had been acting secretary for more than four months, executed his first act shortly after being confirmed by directing $100 million into a program to help support the families of Army personnel being deployed overseas.
In assuming his fifth job in the Pentagon since 2001, Geren becomes the civilian leader of a wartime force strained by repeated combat deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan. He will oversee more than one million active duty, reserve and National Guard personnel, as well as 510 civilian and contract workers.
"I'm thrilled," said Rep. Kay Granger, R-Texas, who has worked closely with Geren since she was the city's mayor and he represented Fort Worth in Congress. "The nation is really well served. He's a very good thinker, knows the problems and will give it everything he's got."
Geren, 55, was named acting secretary in March when Secretary Francis Harvey was fired after disclosures of shoddy care at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, the Army's premier hospital, in Washington, D.C.
As interim leader, Geren moved quickly to make improvements and help the Army overcome the embarrassing blow to its image. President Bush nominated him as secretary May 24.
Geren encountered no visible opposition to his nomination, but some of his supporters initially feared that the appointment could be ensnared by opposition to Bush's war policies.
"I was a little bit worried that he might get caught up in some of the politics swirling around Washington," said Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, who vigorously supported the nomination.
Geren joined the Pentagon as a special assistant to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld before Rumsfeld was forced out late last year over his handling of the Iraq war. Geren also served as acting secretary of the Air Force for four months in 2005 and as undersecretary of the Army, the post he held before being named acting secretary.
"He will be a fine secretary of the Army, and we appreciate the Senate acting to confirm this well-qualified nominee to this important position," White House spokesman Blair Jones said.
As secretary, Geren will not participate in combat decisions but will run the $170 billion-a-year department, working closely with Gen. George Casey Jr., the Army chief of staff. His central assignment will be to keep the service fully trained, funded and equipped to overcome the immense wear and tear of sustained warfare.
After winning confirmation, he ordered the immediate hiring of 1,011 "family readiness" assistants to help families deal with "the cumulative effects" of multiple deployments.
Geren and Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England, a former Fort Worth aerospace executive, have emerged as proven survivors in a Pentagon hierarchy under siege over an unpopular war. England formerly served as secretary of the Navy.
The two Texans were brought into the Defense Department by Rumsfeld and, after six years, have outlasted their former boss and other Pentagon figures. Both have forged good relations with lawmakers of both parties and appear to work well with Defense Secretary Robert Gates, the former Texas A&M president who replaced Rumsfeld.
Education: University of Texas, bachelor's and law degrees
Family: Married; three daughters
Political career: Represented Fort Worth as a Democrat in U.S. House, 1989-97
Pentagon career: Joined Defense Department in September 2001, serving most recently as undersecretary of the Army and acting secretary of the Army
Source: Fort Worth Star-Telegram archives