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DECORATED VETERAN LEADS FIGHT

In Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge, President Bush has chosen a decorated Vietnam War veteran to lead the fight against terrorism on American soil.

He has also tapped a good friend.

Ridge, 56, was named to the new Cabinet-level position Thursday. He will be responsible for creating a plan to stop terrorist attacks.

Ridge will resign as governor Oct. 5.

"It is an honor to serve your country at any time, but more so now than ever," Ridge said at a news conference on the steps of the State Capitol in Harrisburg. "I'm saddened that this job is even necessary. But it is."

The Republican governor and Bush became close friends when Ridge volunteered to help with former President George H.W. Bush's campaign in 1988.

Ridge's state was touched by terrorism last week. One of the four jetliners hijacked Sept. 11 crashed in western Pennsylvania, killing all 44 people aboard.

"So I will give it everything I have," Ridge said. "The task is enormous. The nation faces an unusual threat that it has never faced before."

As the first director of the new Office of Homeland Security, Ridge will coordinate 40 federal agencies and departments, overseeing everything from the interaction between the FBI and the CIA in developing and using intelligence to working with governors and state agencies to prepare for potential attacks.

While previous efforts by Republican and Democratic administrations to create high-level liaisons, such as anti-drug czars, have had mixed success, lawmakers from both parties heartily endorsed the choice and cheered Ridge, who was seated in the House gallery next to British Prime Minister Tony Blair during Bush's speech.

"President Bush showed great wisdom by nominating Tom Ridge for this position," said Senate Majority Whip Harry M. Reid, D-Nev. "He was an excellent governor and will make an outstanding homeland czar."

"I'm encouraged by it," added Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, D-Conn., who has called for the creation of a separate new homeland defense agency. "I take Bush's statement as an endorsement of the idea, although the new office will have to be more than just someone in the White House. It must be someone with line authority and a budget to go with it."

Ridge will lack the direct day-to-day authority of other Cabinet members over specific departments and agencies, and he must work in concert with a new deputy national security adviser for combating terrorism, who will have some overlapping authority.

The homeland defense appointment would probably not need Senate confirmation, which other Cabinet nominations require, or legislation to create the position, White House officials said.

However, Lieberman, chairman of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, said Congress will likely have to pass legislation to give the office budget authority and the powers to enforce its decisions.

Ridge grew up near Erie, Pa. He graduated from local Catholic schools, worked summers as a union laborer and went to Harvard University.

Sent to Vietnam in the spring of 1970, Staff Sgt. Ridge and his squad one day encountered about 10 Viet Cong guerrillas as they were breaking for lunch near a village south of Da Nang.

The Army later credited Ridge with killing an enemy sentry in the fight and "skillfully" calling in support fire. Among the medals the sergeant received was the Bronze Star for valor.

Ridge was successful in his first bid for Congress in 1982 and served 12 years.

On defense, he favored spending less on U.S. troops stationed in Europe and Asia and capping funds for the Strategic Defense Initiative in 1992. In the 1980s, he opposed aid to El Salvador and the Nicaraguan Contra rebels and backed a nuclear freeze.

He was narrowly elected governor in 1994 and re-elected handily in 1998. He is barred from running again when his term expires in January 2003.

Bush called Ridge "a distinguished American to lead this effort, to strengthen American security: a military veteran, an effective governor, a true patriot, a trusted friend."

As governor, Ridge has refused to embrace his church's anti-abortion doctrine, supporting a limited form of abortion rights. His position also clashes with the Republican Party's platform and Bush's anti-abortion stance.

Ridge was twice mentioned as a potential Republican candidate for vice president -- for a brief period during the early days of Bob Dole's run for the presidency in 1996 and more prominently as a potential running mate for candidate Bush last year.

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