Overnight Defense: Biden takes first trip to Walter Reed as president | Pentagon halts Trump's last-minute board appointments | Space Force unveils rank structure

Overnight Defense: Biden takes first trip to Walter Reed as president | Pentagon halts Trump's last-minute board appointments | Space Force unveils rank structure
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Happy Friday and welcome to Overnight Defense. I'm Rebecca Kheel, and here's your nightly guide to the latest developments at the Pentagon, on Capitol Hill and beyond. CLICK HERE to subscribe to the newsletter.

THE TOPLINE: President Biden made his first presidential visit to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center on Friday, spending the afternoon visiting wounded service members.

Biden spent about an hour at the military hospital in Bethesda, Md., visiting five wounded service members and later touring the hospital’s coronavirus vaccine site.

Biden visited one Marine, three Army soldiers and one member of the Army National Guard, according to the White House. 

Context: Biden is no stranger to Walter Reed.

The president’s late son Beau Biden, a major in the Delaware Army National Guard, was treated at Walter Reed in the weeks before his death. He died in 2015 following a battle with brain cancer.

President Biden was greeted by two officials from the hospital, speaking with them for a few minutes and thanking them for the care they provided his son in his “final days.”

Biden also underwent surgery at Walter Reed for a brain aneurysm in 1988 when he was a senator representing Delaware.

As he departed the White House for the military hospital Friday afternoon, Biden noted that he spent a lot of time at Walter Reed, including going there every Christmas as vice president to visit with patients. He called the service members he was visiting Friday “real heroes” and said some of them were amputees.

SecDef gets out too: Defense Secretary Lloyd AustinLloyd AustinOvernight Defense: Biden makes his Afghanistan decision Biden sparks bipartisan backlash on Afghanistan withdrawal  Iran to increase the purity of enriched uranium to 60 percent MORE also took his own trip Friday to visit service members, in his case the National Guardsmen stationed at the Capitol.

Austin thanked the troops for being there and asked if there was anything they needed, telling them “the Department of Defense is behind you." 

“I recognize this is not easy duty, but it’s important duty,” Austin said. “The lawmakers that work in those buildings behind you there, they’re really really grateful and happy. They don’t get a chance to tell you that personally everyday, but trust me, they tell me that, how grateful they are.”

PENTAGON FREEZES BOARD APPOINTMENTS: The Pentagon has halted the installation of several Trump loyalists to advisory boards as the department reviews appointments that were made in the waning days of his administration.

"The Secretary, as you would expect, is reviewing current policies in place across the department to determine if any changes are necessary, to include the advisory boards,” Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said in a statement. “No final decisions have been made with respect to board membership. But we will make the information available should that change."

The move was first reported by Politico.

Advisory board members serve at the pleasure of the Defense secretary, so Austin could oust any of former President TrumpDonald TrumpBiden to move ahead with billion UAE weapons sale approved by Trump Fox News hires high-profile defense team in Dominion defamation lawsuit Associate indicted in Gaetz scandal cooperating with DOJ: report MORE’s appointments if he chooses to.

Who it affects: The pause reportedly affects allies of Trump who have yet to complete their paperwork, including former Trump campaign manager Corey LewandowskiCorey LewandowskiThe Memo: The mystery of post-presidency Trump Trump frustrated with pace of super PAC Dozens of Trump appointees 'burrow' into Biden government MORE and deputy campaign manager David Bossie. Both were chosen to serve on the Defense Business Board after the Trump administration fired nine board members.

The pause will also affect former acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller’s choices to serve on the congressionally mandated commission tasked with planning how to rename Confederate-named military bases, according to The Washington Post.

At the beginning of the month, Miller appointed Joshua Whitehouse, the White House liaison to the Defense Department who was involved in some of the post-election purges at the Pentagon. Miller also appointed Sean McLean, a White House associate director; Ann Johnston, the then-acting assistant secretary of Defense for legislative affairs; and Earl Matthews, an Army colonel who previously served as principal deputy general counsel for the Army and on Trump’s National Security Council.

Who it doesn’t: Trump advisory board appointees who already completed their paperwork are reportedly not affected by the Pentagon’s freeze, including Anthony Tata, the former acting Pentagon policy chief who had to withdraw his nomination for the job after inflammatory tweets resurfaced. Trump appointed him to the Defense Policy Board, and he and two other of Trump’s board appointments were sworn in the day before the inauguration.

SORRY, CAPT. KIRK: The Space Force has settled on a rank structure, and to the likely chagrin of actor William Shatner, is it not the Navy’s.

The Space Force rank structure revealed Friday largely mirrors that of the Air Force.

For enlisted "guardians," as service members in the Space Force are called, the first five ranks are different from the Air Force, but the rest will remain the same.

In the Air Force, the first four ranks are airmen, but in the Space Force they will be specialists. The fifth rank in the Air Force is staff sergeant, but in the Space Force the rank will just be called sergeant.

On the officer side, all the ranks are the same as the Air Force, Army and Marine Corps, from second lieutenant up to general. 

Flashback: Public interest in the Space Force’s rank structure picked up after Shatner, who played Capt. James T. Kirk on “Star Trek,” stumped for the service to adopt Navy ranks in an emoji-filled op-ed for Military Times.

Some lawmakers also pushed for the Space Force to use Navy ranks. Rep. Dan CrenshawDaniel CrenshawGOP Rep. Crenshaw to take leave due to eye surgery Koch network urges lawmakers to back 'personal option' health plan A nuclear frontier MORE (R-Texas), a Navy SEAL veteran, inserted an amendment into the initial House-passed version of the annual defense policy bill last year that would have required the Space Force to use Navy ranks.

But the amendment was stripped from the final version of the bill that became law after House and Senate negotiators decided to leave it up to the Space Force to choose its own rank structure.


Pentagon press secretary John Kirby will hold an on-camera press briefing at 2:30 p.m. Livestream at defense.gov/live.


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