Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mark Milley retired Friday with an impassioned speech that took a swipe at former President Trump, proclaiming that the U.S. military does not swear an oath to a “wannabe dictator.”
Trump last week accused Milley of “treason” in going behind his back to reassure his Chinese counterpart near the end of his term, suggesting that the Army general should be put to death.
“We are unique among the world’s militaries. We don’t take an oath to a country. We don’t take an oath to a tribe. We don’t take an oath to a religion. We don’t take an oath to a king, or a queen, or to a tyrant or a dictator,” Milley said at a ceremony in Virginia.
“And we don’t take an oath to a wannabe dictator,” he continued. “We don’t take an oath to an individual. We take an oath to the Constitution, and we take an oath to the idea that is America — and we’re willing to die to protect it.”
Milley, who was appointed by Trump in 2018, often clashed with the former president while serving under him, most notably regarding the incident with St. John’s Church in Washington, D.C., in June 2020 during the racial injustice protests set off by the murder of George Floyd.
Milley had briefly appeared wearing combat fatigues alongside Trump as he walked across Lafayette Square to St. John’s as Trump sought a photo-op.
The four-star general later apologized publicly for creating “a perception of the military involved in domestic politics” and that he “should not have been there” — an apology that angered Trump.
That same summer, Milley backed the effort to rename Army bases named after Confederate generals, a stance at odds with the former president.
And in the lead-up to the 2020 presidential election, Milley sought to ensure a peaceful transition of power when he called his Chinese counterpart to assure the general that the American government was “not going to attack or conduct any kinetic operations against you,” according to the book “Peril” by Bob Woodward and Robert Costa.
After the election, concerned that Trump might stage a coup, Milley told his deputies to not take orders from anyone unless he was involved, as reported in “Peril.”
Trump was never directly referred to during Friday’s ceremony at Joint Base-Myer Henderson Hall, with speakers instead lavishing praise on Milley for his service to the country across more than four decades in the military.
President Biden called Milley’s partnership “invaluable,” saying he was “unflinching in the face of danger.” Biden recounted how Milley “once ran across a bridge booby-trapped with mines to stop two battle tanks evacuating wounded troops from driving across it.”
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, meanwhile, called Milley “a scholar and a warrior.”
“We respect him for his wit, but we love him for his heart. And he’s thrown his whole heart into leading this tremendous joint force of soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, guardians,” Austin said.
The ceremony also included Milley’s swearing in the incoming Joints Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr., who most recently served as the Air Force chief of staff.