Miller Center

American President

A Reference Resource

Eric Shinseki (2009- ): Secretary of Veterans' Affairs

Eric Ken Shinseki was born in November 28, 1942, in Lihue, Kauai, in what was then the Territory of Hawaii. He graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1965, commissioned as a second lieutenant. He earned a Masters of Arts degree in English Literature from Duke University in 1976 and later studied at both the United States Army Command and General Staff College and the National War College.

Shinseki has served in a variety of command and staff assignments throughout the continental United States and overseas, including two combat tours in Vietnam when he earned two purple hearts and a bronze star. He has also served more than ten years in Europe, during and after the Cold War, before returning to the states permanently in 1994. He concluded his service with three simultaneous commands: U.S. Army, Europe and NATO Land Forces, Central Europe, and the NATO-led Peace Stabilization Force.

From 1999 until June 2003, Shinseki served as the 34th Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army and retired from active duty in August 2003. During his time as Chief of Staff, he initiated the Army Transformation Campaign, which served to usher both the culture and technology of the U.S. Army into the 21st century. He also encountered controversy as Chief of Staff when he testified before the Senate Armed Service Committee in February 2003 that a several hundred thousand soldiers would probably be needed in Iraq. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld dismissed Shinseki's estimation as "off the mark" but as the violence in Iraq escalated, many thought Shinseki had been correct.

Shinseki is the only Japanese American to be promoted to the Army's top position and is the first four-star general of Asian descent in the U.S. military. President Barack Obama nominated Shinseki as secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs; he was unanimously confirmed on January 20, 2009.