Mark Alexander Milley, America’s highest-ranking military officer serving under President Joe Biden, was born June 20, 1958, in Winchester, Massachusetts. He has reportedly been married to Hollyanne, his wife who works in Northern Virginia, for more than 36 years as of 2022 (online sources do not report an exact date of marriage). They have two children.
According to his official U.S. Department of Defense biography, Milley graduated from Princeton University with a bachelor’s degree in political science. While at Princeton, he wrote a 185-page senior thesis titled A Critical Analysis of Revolutionary Guerrilla Organization in Theory and Practice. Milley received his military commission from Army ROTC (Reserve Officers’ Training Corps) out of Princeton. He holds two master’s degrees — one in international relations from Columbia University and one from the U.S. Naval War College — in national security and strategic studies. He also completed the MIT Seminar XXI National Security Studies Program.
Milley has held several command and staff positions in eight divisions and Special Forces over the course of his military career, including command of the 1st Battalion, 506th Infantry, 2nd Infantry Division; command of the 2nd Brigade, 10th Mountain Division; Deputy Commanding General, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault); Commanding General, 10th Mountain Division; Commanding General, III Corps; and Commanding General, U.S. Army Forces Command. While Commanding General of III Corps, Milley was deployed as the Commanding General of the International Security Assistance Force Joint Command, and as Deputy Commanding General for U.S. Forces in Afghanistan. His assignments also included the Joint Staff operations directorate and Military Assistant to the defense secretary.
Milley’s operational deployments have included the Multi-National Force and Observers in Sinai, Egypt; Operation Just Cause, the invasion of Panama in December 1989 and January 1990; Operation Uphold Democracy, the invasion of Haiti that ran from September 1994 through March 1995 and removed the military junta installed in the 1991 Haitian coup d’état that overthrew the elected President Jean-Bertrand Aristide; Operation Joint Endeavor, a NATO-led multinational peace enforcement force in Bosnia and Herzegovina that ran from December 1995 through December 1996; Operation Iraqi Freedom from 2003 through 2011 in the Second Gulf War; and Operation Enduring Freedom (in Afghanistan), the official government name for the Global War on Terrorism. He was also deployed to Somalia and Colombia.
On August 14, 2015, Milley was appointed as the 39th Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army. In this post, he created the Army Futures Command (AFC) in Austin, Texas, in 2018, an event the Army describes as “one of the most significant Army reorganization efforts since 1973, when the U.S. Army disestablished the Continental Army Command and Combat Development Command, and redistributed their functions between two new commands, U.S. Army Forces Command and U.S. Army Training & Doctrine Command.” The Army further states that the AFC has more than “26,000 personnel worldwide working on modernization priorities” designed to “provide future warfighters with the concepts, capabilities and organizational structures they need to dominate a future battlefield.”
In 2018, Milley spearheaded the introduction of a new Army Combat Fitness Test, the first update of the test in 40 years. North Carolina TV station WNCT reported that the new test, which was “designed to better prepare soldiers for combat,” consisted of six parts: “a three repetition maximum deadlift, a standing power throw, a hand release push-up, the sprint-drag-carry, leg tucks, and a two-mile run.” “At any point in time these folks are asked to leave their communities, leave their jobs, leave their families and go out and deploy to all sort of places across the world and engage in all sorts of military and soldier operations,” said Marshall McCloud, Officer in Charge of launching the new program. “This is going to make sure that they are prepared and ready to do that.” “The ACFT is gender and age neutral,” added the news report.
“If you can’t get in shape in 24 months, then maybe you should hit the road,” Milley said of the modified ACFT. “We don’t want to lose thousands of soldiers to [the ACFT]. This fitness test is hard. No one should be under any illusions about it. But we really don’t want to lose soldiers on the battlefield. We don’t want young men and women to get killed in action because they weren’t fit.” Asserting that there was “nothing like” ground combat, Milley added: “Combat is not for the faint of heart, it’s not for the weak-kneed, it’s not for those who are not psychologically resilient and tough and hardened to the brutality, to the viciousness of it. We’ve got to get this Army hard, and we’ve got to get it hard fast.”
On October 1, 2019, Milley became the 20th Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, making him the principal military advisor to the president, secretary of defense, and National Security Council.
Although Milley’s principal objective is supposed to be defending America, the left-wing Ivy Leaguer has instead shown a keen interest in changing the country’s military, putting radical ideology ahead of military preparedness.
As the violent Black Lives Matter– and Antifa-led riots that followed the infamous death of George Floyd struck more than 200 American cities in 2020, Milley insisted that the mob violence ravaging the nation’s capital –including a June 1, 2020 siege of the White House in which a gatehouse was burned — consisted of legitimate protests, as opposed to subversive direct action aimed at forcing political change. When the Trump White House proposed invoking the Insurrection Act to deal with the unrest, Milley berated presidential advisor Stephen Miller, claiming that because the riots were really mere protests, getting the military involved would constitute interfering with political affairs. But as conservative commentator Daniel Greenfield noted: “[President Dwight] Eisenhower had sent the troops into Little Rock to integrate the schools, [President John F.] Kennedy had sent them to Mississippi to do the same, and [President] George H.W. Bush had sent them to Los Angeles to put down the Rodney King riots.”
In the June 1, 2020 incident, Lafayette Square was forcibly cleared of rioters. False media reports indicated that authorities had used excessive force in the crowd-control action. After the rioters had been sent away, President Trump crossed the street to the “Church of the Presidents” (St. John’s Episcopal Church), which the mob had previously set on fire. Under pressure from the media, Milley distanced himself from the clearing of the square. “I should not have been there,” said the self-flagellating Milley in a video days afterward. He defended the riots as justifiable responses to “centuries of injustice toward African Americans.” After numerous cities across the country had been set on fire, statues toppled, and hundreds of police officers injured by Marxist groups, Milley said “we should all be proud that the vast majority of protests have been peaceful.”
Milley further lamented that he had failed to maintain “a keen sense of situational awareness” as he walked, dressed in combat fatigues, from the square with President Trump and then-Defense Secretary Mark Esper and others. Citing one particular “photograph of me in Lafayette Square last week that sparked a national debate about the role of the military in civil society,” Milley confessed that his “presence in that moment, and in that environment, [had] created the perception of the military involved in domestic politics.”
Milley also denounced what he called the “senseless, brutal killing” of George Floyd, whom the media had lionized after his passing. “His death amplified the pain, the frustration, the fear that so many of our fellow Americans live with day in and day out,” said Milley. Suggesting that more blacks should be commissioned as flag officers, Milley added the U.S. military, where just 7 percent of generals and admirals were black, had a “mixed record” in that regard. “We, too, have not come far enough,” Milley declared. “We cannot afford to marginalize large portions of our potential talent pool, or alienate certain demographic groups.”
As the Black Lives Matter race riots enveloped American cities throughout the summer of 2020, Milley demanded that Fort Bragg and Fort Hood, which were named after Confederate generals, have their names changed. Notably, Milley had never raised the issue when he was in charge of Army Forces Command at Fort Bragg, or when he was a commanding general at Fort Hood.
Later in 2020, Milley issued a public commitment to combating “unconscious” bias in the armed forces.
When a Democrat lawmaker at a House Armed Services Committee hearing in June 2021 urged Milley to defend the indoctrination of the members of the armed forces with the tenets of Critical Race Theory (CRT), Milley gave a speech in which he falsely claimed that CRT amounted to nothing more than the study of “laws in the United States, antebellum laws prior to the Civil War that led to a power differential with African-Americans that were three quarters of a human being when this country was formed.”
At the same hearing in June 2021, Milley further defended Critical Race Theory by saying that it was important for military leaders to be intellectually well-rounded. “I’ve read Mao Zedong. I’ve read Karl Marx. I’ve read Lenin. That doesn’t make me a communist,” Milley said. “So what is wrong with understanding … the country which we are here to defend?”
When Rep. Mike Waltz (R-Florida) brought up the fact that the U.S. Military Academy at West Point taught a course involving CRT in which one lecturer had discussed the concept of “white rage,” Milley replied: “I want to understand white rage. And I’m white.”
Referring to the January 6, 2021 security breach at the U.S. Capitol which delayed congressional certification of Joe Biden’s election as president by several hours, Milley suggested that the white protesters at the scene were motivated by racial animus, not by disgust over a stolen presidential election. “What is it that caused thousands of people to assault this building and try to overturn the Constitution of the United States of America?” he asked. “What caused that? I want to find that out.” Milley also said it bothered him that Republican lawmakers as well as pundits like Fox News host Tucker Carlson had accused the U.S. military of being “woke or something else because we’re studying some theories that are out there.”
After the June 2021 hearing in the House, Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Florida), who had questioned the West Point curriculum because of its countenance of CRT, criticized Milley on Twitter. “With Generals like this it’s no wonder we’ve fought considerably more wars than we’ve won,” Gaetz tweeted.
Nuclear Codes, Trump Coup Fears
On January 8, 2021 — two days after the disturbance at the U.S. Capitol — CNN reported that Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said that she had spoken with Milley earlier that day (January 8) about her concerns that then-President Trump, whom she regarded as mentally unstable, might order a nuclear attack of some kind as a way of trying to overturn his election defeat. “This morning, I spoke to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley to discuss available precautions for preventing an unstable president from initiating military hostilities or accessing the launch codes and ordering a nuclear strike,” Pelosi wrote in a letter to Democratic lawmakers. “The situation of this unhinged President could not be more dangerous, and we must do everything that we can to protect the American people from his unbalanced assault on our country and our democracy.”
Pelosi received assurances from unidentified sources that there were safeguards in place should Trump decide on his own to fire a nuclear weapon, CNN reported. “Speaker Pelosi initiated a call with the Chairman [i.e. Milley]. He answered her questions regarding the process of nuclear command authority,” Milley spokesman Colonel Dave Butler reportedly said in a statement. CNN, for its part, added: “Current and former defense officials have also insisted that the military does not blindly follow orders from the President, noting there are layers of checks and balances intended to safeguard against a President unlawfully ordering a nuclear strike. But the reality is that the only basis for interfering with a direct order is if it’s illegal, immoral or unethical. And there is a widely held belief among military commanders that they must resign if they are unable to carry out a legal order. Some nuclear experts argue that there is little Milley could do to prevent Trump from ordering a nuclear launch, as he and other top national security officials are not technically in the chain of command when it comes to such decisions.”
Milley prepared a memorandum detailing his conversation with Pelosi. The document was later unclassified and posted (pdf) on the website of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Eight months after the conversation with Pelosi, Milley provided some details of the chat to the Senate Armed Services Committee, Business Insider reported September 28, 2021. In that testimony, Milley said that Pelosi had called him to “inquire about the President’s ability to launch nuclear weapons. I sought to assure her that nuclear launch is governed by a very specific and deliberate process.” The general added that Pelosi was “concerned and made various personal references characterizing the President.” Noting that the president has unilateral authority to launch nuclear weapons “but he doesn’t launch them alone,” Milley said he had told Pelosi that he was “not qualified to determine the mental health of the president of the United States.”
Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Robert Costa got their hands on a transcript of the Milley-Pelosi call and included details of it in their book, Peril. According to the book, Milley told Pelosi there were “a lot of checks in the system” regarding the launch of nuclear weapons. Of Trump, Pelosi allegedly told Milley, “He’s crazy. You know he’s crazy.” Milley told Pelosi he was in agreement with her “on everything,” the book reported.
At a July 2021 press conference, Milley ducked questions about whether he really believed then-President Donald Trump had wanted to carry out a coup after the 2020 election, as Washington Post reporters Carol Leonnig and Philip Rucker had written in their newly released book, I Alone Can Fix It: Donald J. Trump’s Catastrophic Final Year. In the book, the authors wrote that Milley was afraid Trump would lead a post-election military coup, describing it as a “Reichstag moment” and likening Trump to Adolf Hitler. The book also reported that Milley, during Joe Biden’s January 2021 inauguration, had told Michelle Obama that under his face mask, he was relieved and smiling as a result of Biden’s victory.
According to another 2021 book, Frankly, We Did Win This Election: The Inside Story of How Trump Lost, authored by Wall Street Journal reporter Michael Bender, Milley had screamed at Trump in the White House in response to the president’s suggestion that military personnel should be used to put down the nationwide race riots of 2020. Previewing Bender’s book, the Guardian reported that the book claimed that Trump had urged Milley to “crack skulls” and “just shoot” protesters who were inspired to cause havoc by the death of George Floyd, and that Milley had replied by telling Trump that he was just an adviser and could not order a response. “I said you’re in fucking charge!” Trump is said to have shouted. “Well, I’m not in charge!” Milley yelled back. “You can’t fucking talk to me like that!” Trump reportedly shouted. Milley then allegedly told advisers present for the meeting in the White House situation room: “Goddamnit. There’s a room full of lawyers here. Will someone inform him of my legal responsibilities?”
Asserting that then-Attorney General William Barr reportedly took Milley’s side in the discussion, the Guardian report continued: “Trump denied the exchange, a spokesman calling it ‘fake news; and saying Bender, who like scores of other authors interviewed the former president for his book, ‘never asked me about it and it’s totally fake news.’” “If General Milley had yelled at me, I would have fired him,” Trump was quoted saying.
“It has been widely reported that Trump wanted to invoke the Insurrection Act, a historic piece of legislation to deal with domestic unrest most recently used during the Los Angeles riots in 1992. It was not invoked but the New York Times has reported that aides drafted an order. Milley reportedly opposed use of the act,” according to the Guardian.
Asserting that Milley had “not denied any of the allegations, either personally or through spokespeople and associates,” Breitbart.com, citing Bender’s book as its source of information, reported:
“Asked by a reporter whether he would like to ‘set the historical record straight’ about the allegations, Milley responded, ‘I know there’s a lot of interest out there in all of these books that are out there, quoting me and lots of others, et cetera. I’m not going to comment on what’s in any of those books.’
“But Milley said he was not at fault: ‘Let me just say this, though, I always, personally, provided the best military professional advice to President Trump previously, to President Biden, or any other president. I always provide the best military advice to the secretary of Defense, whomever’s the secretary of Defense. And I do that for the National Security Council as well.’ “‘I want America to know that the United States military is an apolitical institution. We were then, we are now. And our oath is to the Constitution, not to any individual at all,’ Milley said, adding: ‘And the military did not, and will not, and should not ever — get involved in domestic politics. We don’t arbitrate elections. That’s the job of the judiciary and the legislature, and the American people. It is not the job of the U.S. military. We stayed out of politics. We’re an apolitical institution.’”
Milley Condemns January 6
On January 12, 2021, Milley and other top military leaders issued a statement addressed to all members of the armed forces, condemning the disturbance at the United States Capitol six days before: “The violent riot in Washington, D.C. on January 6, 2021 was a direct assault on the U.S. Congress, the Capitol Building and our Constitutional process,” the Joint Chiefs stated. “We mourn the deaths of the two Capitol policemen and others connected to these unprecedented events.” The officers wrote that what they had seen at the Capitol was contrary to the rule of law, and that the rights to freedom of speech and assembly “do not give anyone the right to resort to violence, sedition and insurrection.”
The officers also indicated that the military would continue to obey lawful orders from civilian leadership, and defend the rule of law and the Constitution against both foreign and domestic enemies: “As service members, we must embody the values and ideals of the nation. We support and defend the Constitution. Any act to disrupt the constitutional process is not only against our traditions, values, and oath; it is against the law.” They also indicated that Joe Biden would be sworn in as president on January 20 of that year and become the armed forces’ commander in chief: “To our men and women deployed and at home, safeguarding our country — stay ready, keep your eyes on the horizon, and remain focused on the mission. We honor your continued service in defense of every American.”
Comforting China, Betraying America
Milley undermined then-President Trump’s authority by twice contacting his (Milley’s) Communist Chinese counterpart, General Li Zuocheng of the People’s Liberation Army, to reassure Li that the United States would not attack mainland China. One of the telephone calls was placed on October 30, 2020, four days before the U.S. presidential election. The other was an urgent call placed at 7:03 a.m. via a top-secret, back-channel phone line two days after the January 6, 2021 riot. The Bob Woodward/Robert Costa book, Peril, provides an account of exactly what Milley said during his January 8 conversation with Li:
General Li, in turn, replied: “Okay, I take you at your word.”
Milley reportedly believed that Trump had experienced some kind of mental deterioration after January 6, and expressed his concerns in a January 8, 2021 telephone call with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, according to Woodward and Costa.
Milley also called the U.S. admiral in charge of the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command and suggested that upcoming military exercises should be delayed. Moreover, he demanded that senior officers swear an “oath” that they had to involve Milley if Trump were to issue an order to launch nuclear weapons.
Trump said in a written statement that if the claims that Peril made about Milley’s words and actions were true, the general should be “tried for TREASON.” Trump also wrote that the story was “Fake News concocted by a weak and ineffective General together with two authors who I refused to give an interview to because they write fiction, not fact.”
President Joe Biden defended the actions which Milley had taken while Trump was president. “I have great confidence in General Milley,” Biden told reporters minutes after his press secretary, Jen Psaki, had described Milley’s actions as acceptable in the “context of this period and time in history.” When asked about revelations in the book, Peril, Psaki said: “What I can assure you all is that [President Biden] knows General Milley, he has been chairman of the Joint Chiefs for almost eight months of his presidency, they’ve worked side by side through a range of international events, and the president has complete confidence in his leadership, his patriotism and his fidelity to our Constitution.” she then added: “Since you gave me the opportunity I just wanted to add, I think it’s important to consider some of the context, context of this period and time, of time in history that we’re discussing and is outlined in portions of this book. The outgoing president of the United States, during this period of time, fomented unrest, leading to an insurrection and an attack on our nation’s capital, on January 6 which we’ve all, you all have covered extensively, of course, one of the darkest days in our nation’s history.”
A few minutes before Psaki’s media briefing, Milley’s spokesman, Colonel Dave Butler, had confirmed that Milley had indeed made the aforementioned calls to Li Zuocheng. Brushing off the communications as innocuous and routine, Butler said in a written statement: “The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs regularly communicates with Chiefs of Defense across the world, including with China and Russia. These conversations remain vital to improving mutual understanding of U.S. national security interests, reducing tensions, providing clarity and avoiding unintended consequences or conflict.” “His calls with the Chinese and others in October and January were in keeping with these duties and responsibilities conveying reassurance in order to maintain strategic stability,” Butler added. “All calls from the chairman to his counterparts, including those reported, are staffed, coordinated and communicated with the Department of Defense and the interagency.”
Christopher Miller, who was the acting defense secretary in the final weeks of the Trump administration, said he “did not and would not ever authorize” Milley to make “secret” calls to Li. Asserting that Milley had engaged in a “disgraceful and unprecedented act of insubordination,” Miller said that Milley should resign “immediately.” “The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is the highest-ranking military officer whose sole role is providing military-specific advice to the president, and by law is prohibited from exercising executive authority to command forces,” Miller said in a statement. “The chain of command runs from the President to the Secretary of Defense, not through the Chairman.”
Kash Patel, who had been Trump’s chief of staff for the Defense Department, agreed that Milley had broken laws regulating the chairman’s powers related to “any operational authority.” “Congress put this in the statute because the U.S. military is to be led by a civilian, the commander-in-chief,” Patel said. “Furthermore, by law, the national command authority goes from the president to the secretary of Defense to include anything relating troop deployments, operations in theaters of war, and nuclear command.” “Calling a foreign counterpart and discussing operational capabilities against that enemy is literally treasonous,” Patel continued. “The White House, nor the Office of the Secretary of Defense authorized the chairman to conduct any calls with Chinese officials regarding operations.”