Pentagon Personnel Chief is Latest DoD Leader to Resign

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James N. Stewart, performing the duties of the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, speaks to attendees during the 29th Annual DoD Red Ribbon Week Awards Ceremony at the Pentagon, Washington, D.C., Oct. 17, 2019. (DoD/U.S. Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class James K. Lee)
James N. Stewart, performing the duties of the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, speaks to attendees during the 29th Annual DoD Red Ribbon Week Awards Ceremony at the Pentagon, Washington, D.C., Oct. 17, 2019. (DoD/U.S. Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class James K. Lee)

A retired Air Force general performing the duties of the under secretary of defense for Personnel and Readiness at the Defense Department has resigned, according to the Pentagon.

Without citing a specific reason, Defense Secretary Mark Esper announced in a statement Friday that James 'Jimmy' Stewart had stepped down from the position.

"Today, I accepted the resignation of Jimmy Stewart," Esper said.

Stewart, who was confirmed as the assistant secretary of defense for Manpower and Reserve Affairs in October 2018, "has been filling the under secretary role since then, a role that is critical to the National Defense Strategy, in support of our families and readiness," Esper said.

"I note that Jimmy came out of retirement, after having served 37 years in the Air Force, to serve his country again. It's people like Jimmy, the selfless individuals who put service before self, who are the backbone of this country. I thank Jimmy and his family for their service to the department and the nation, and wish him the best in his retirement," he added.

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Matt Donovan, the under secretary of the Air Force who served as acting Air Force Secretary until Barbara Barrett's recent confirmation, will step into the role vacated by Stewart, Esper said.

Donovan will still maintain his current role as Air Force under secretary until Dec. 27. When he transitions to performing duties as the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness for DoD, Shon Manasco, the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Manpower and Reserve Affairs, will take over as Air Force under secretary.

"Under Secretary Donovan's steady leadership and work improving the force's readiness, modernization, and advocacy will leave the Department of the Air Force better for generations to come," Barrett said Friday. Donovan has been the under secretary for more than two years.

"The Department of the Air Force is in good hands with Shon Manasco's leadership," Barrett added.

Stewart is just the latest in a long series of officials to resign or be removed from top Pentagon roles in the last few years. Navy Secretary Richard Spencer was asked for his resignation in November after Esper said he had broken trust by dealing unilaterally with the White House. Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson resigned in May to take a position as president of the University of Texas at El Paso. On Thursday, Pentagon officials confirmed that Assistant Secretary of Defense for Indo-Pacific Security Affairs Randall Schriver was resigning after nearly two years in the post.

The position Stewart is vacating has not been filled by a Senate-confirmed official since Robert Wilkie departed to become secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs in July 2018.

According to his Air Force biography, Stewart was a pilot with over 4,700 flight hours flying the KC-10 Extender, C-17 Globemaster III, C-141A/B Starlifter, WC-130H weather reconnaissance aircraft and the C-130H2 Hercules during his nearly 40-year career, which spanned both active duty and the Air Force Reserve.

He retired from the Air Force as a major general in 2014.

During his time serving then-Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, then-Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan and finally Esper, Stewart had been the principal advisor to the SecDef and the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness "on all matters relating to civilian and military personnel policies, Reserve integration, military community and family policy, and total force planning and requirements," his bio states.

Additionally, his responsibilities included "day-to-day supervision of the Department of Defense Education Activity and the Defense Commissary Agency," it says.

-- Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at oriana.pawlyk@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @oriana0214.

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