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​Three former senior defense officials agreed Thursday that the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff should not be in the combat chain of command, but urged that his role as independent military advisor to the President be strengthened with a fixed four-year term, rather than the current two-year appointment with possible reappointment. At a House Armed Services Committee hearing on proposed changes to the 1986 Goldwater-Nichols defense reform law, John Hamre and Dov Zakheim, both former Pentagon officials, and retired Army Gen. Carter Ham, who led Africa Command, differed somewhat on the proposed 25 percent cut in flag and general officers, including downgrading the four-star leaders of the six geographic combatant commands. All agreed there were too many top-level officers, but Hamre and Ham stressed the value of senior officers who concentrated on the regional issues and relationship. They also argued that four-star rank was necessary for access and influence with regional leaders. Zakheim suggested reducing the number of COCOMS by merging US Northern and US Southern Commands into one hemisphere command and rejoining European and Africa commands. Hamre suggested keeping the 25 percent cut, but giving the Pentagon a year to come up with a plan to do it.