Politics & Government

Geren prepares to end eight years at Pentagon, two years as Army secretary

WASHINGTON — Secretary of the Army Pete Geren will be honored for his Pentagon service Friday with a ceremonial goodbye, known as an Army Farewell Review, at Fort Myer in Virginia.

The ceremonial farewell comes two years to the day that Geren, 57, was confirmed by the Senate as the civilian Army chief. The former Fort Worth congressman has spent nearly eight years at the Defense Department, from a special assistant to the secretary of defense to acting Air Force secretary to Army undersecretary to his elevation to Army secretary after the Walter Reed Army Medical Center scandal. Geren has agreed to remain in office until the next secretary begins.

But no story captures the talent and understated appeal of the ram-rod straight-backed and straight arrow than one early in 2002.

It was early March 2002, and the inner sanctum of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was in an uproar. The White House, specifically Office of Management and Budget Director Mitch Daniels, was demanding the head of Mike Parker, the Army assistant secretary for civil works, who oversaw the Army Corps of Engineers.

Parker, a former Mississippi congressman, had publicly defied the Bush administration in testimony in late February to the Senate Budget Committee, saying that the administration's proposed 10 percent budget cut for the Corps of Engineers would have a "negative impact." As for OMB, he said that after working with them, "I still don't have warm and fuzzy feelings for them."

Rumsfeld, no stranger to the chain of command, knew Parker, who had been in the job only a short time, had to go. So Rumsfeld looked around the meeting of his senior staff and asked who wanted to tell him. Geren raised his hand.

Geren had served with Parker in Congress, and both had been co-founders in 1995 of the Blue Dog Coalition, a group of fiscally conservative House Democrats who wanted to contrast themselves with the party-line "yellow dog" Democrats. Parker switched to the GOP later that year.

Geren called Parker.

"Hey, Mike," Geren said, "do you remember the movie, 'Old Yeller?'" A perplexed Parker said he didn't really remember the 1957 Disney classic.

"Well, you know how there's a boy and his dog, Old Yeller?" pressed Geren.

"Yeah, I kind of remember," said Parker.

"And you know how the dog gets sick and the family has to kill it?"

"Yeah, yeah," said Parker.

"And the boy tells his mom, 'but he's my dog, I'll do it.'"

"Uh-huh," said Parker.

"Mike," said Geren, "you're my yellow dog."

Geren gave Parker a half-hour to choose between resigning or being fired. Parker resigned.

The exchange between Geren and Parker was first relayed to the Star-Telegram by another lawmaker, Rep. Gene Taylor, D-Miss., who is friends with both men. Geren then confirmed the account to the Star-Telegram, with a grin and soft chuckle.

Parker is now a lobbyist who counts among his clients the Tarrant Water District and the Trinity River Vision project. Daniels is governor of Indiana.