When you look at how our army has responded, and more specifically, how our soldiers and leaders have responded, they have demonstrated great agility, great adaptability, and an absolute commitment to get the mission done wherever it needed to happen. The priorities that have guided us through these last several years, quite frankly, are more important now, in a resource-constrained environment. I see us guided by those priorities but enabling them to assist us in making the right resource decisions so that we optimize every dollar that we have, every resource that we have, to ensure our army’s ready for the instability around the globe, the resulting global commitments that come from that.
What are Army priorities today?
Some would say we’re coming out of conflict. I would contend we’re very much in conflict on multiple continents around the world, as we’re engaged with our allies and partners trying to regain stability in an environment that is, quite frankly, out of control. I think it comes down to trust. I think the way that I try to communicate it is trust that we will get the resources to ensure you’re trained, ready, and that your families are cared for so that you can perform your mission every day. That’s what they count on us to do, that’s our sacred obligation, and that’s what we’re committed to doing. We are prepared and trained to respond to traditional conventional threats and we’ve proven that we can handle it irregular threats, but we have, in recent times, had to respond to the global health security in light of the Ebola crisis.
How does that impact what we’re trying to do with Army preparedness?
The Chief of Staff of the Army made a commitment that before we would employ our forces in support of the Regionally Aligned Force concept, we would train them for decisive action and for unified land operations so that no matter where they went, they would be prepared to do the full spectrum of potential missions and operations. And I think the 101st Airborne is a perfect example. They were on track for a war fighter exercise to prepare for a future deployment back to Afghanistan.
The Ebola crisis hit, there was a need for the Department of Defense to provide some critical supporting capability. They, within 96 hours, turned on that mission, rapidly prepared, and, quite frankly, they’ve taken that crisis off the radar screen by very decisively working together with our inter agency partners to drive the Ebola deaths to the lowest level that they’ve been in since this crisis started. I think it represents our ability to work with our allies and our partners, particularly in the inter agency, to deliver the outcomes that the nation needs. And it also reflects the adaptability of our Army to shift off a known mission and deliver the effects that are needed on a very divergent mission with a group of soldiers that quickly could adjust and deliver what was needed.
So would it be safe to say that this is the Army Operating Concept in action?
Many aspects that you read about in the Army Operating Concept reflect how our army is operating today. We are much more distributed. We’re operating in smaller teams with a very decentralized mission command structure and we are adapting rapidly based on the effective leadership of leaders that have been born from repetitive deployments in support of the combat operation. Yes, I think it does resemble the capacity that we bring. Quite frankly, our army provides significant foundational capabilities for the Joint Force and really for our national security, and this is just another great example of it. The Army Operating Concept has been out now for some time. It is a very ambitious framework.
How do you take the Army’s Operating Concept and make it so that soldiers can grab it and apply it to what they do?
At its core, it is the intellectual foundation of how we believe our army must operate in the future. It articulates the first order capabilities that we need to have. It will lead to analysis of war fighting concepts. Those concepts will identify specific capabilities that we need and it will also identify, of those capabilities, where gaps reside. So it will guide our future concept development, our future force modernization, force structure updates, and it will enable us, as an army, to continue to adapt as the environment changes as we move forward. It is not an end state. It is really a discussion about how we, as an army, must operate as we move forward into the future.
As we move forward into the future, does sequestration have an impact if and when it returns?
Sequestration is the law and, absent intervention and action by Congress, it will return soon. We’ve fought for the last 18 months to restore the readiness that was taken away as a result of sequestration in 2013. We went from an army that had 10% of our brigade combat teams ready for global deployment and global contingencies to, today, having over 30% ready to deploy. That’s a reflection of hard work by leaders and commanders at every level. We’re headed right back to the same potential precipice if we don’t eliminate the effects of sequestration on our military. We’re engaging with congressional leaders. The Chief of Staff of the Army testified to Congress, the Senate Armed Services Committee, and we’re attempting to communicate as clearly as we can the direct impacts on our readiness. I think the impact that concerns me just as much as the impact on readiness, if not more, is the potential erosion of trust with our soldiers. Our army’s greatness is built on a foundation of trust. That trust is not irrevocable. If we fail to deliver the resources required to prepare them, to train them, to equip them for the missions that they are called to execute and if we lack the capacity to succeed in those missions, I believe that trust is in danger.
Sir, do you think Congress is listening?
Well, we will field the army that Congress budgets us for. We fully recognize that. We will execute on their orders. I do believe they are listening. There is a level of dialogue and a level of commitment that appears more favorable, but we’re all measured on our outcomes. We’re standing by to assist in trying to deliver those outcomes.
One of the concerns that your commanders have with all of the downsizing and the economic resource constraints is that we’re operating now “one deep.” What do you say to that?
Our army is definitely stretched. We have 130,000-plus soldiers deployed today. 148 countries performing missions that are vital, many of them foundational to the day-to-day operations of our theater commanders and, frankly, performing missions that are vital to our national security. Those missions, those enduring missions, are not going down. In fact, we’re finding the demand signal for the Army going up across multiple capability requirements. Our ability to compel understanding that there is a threshold at which, when we go below that, we put at risk our ability to accomplish the national strategy and the security objectives of the nation. We have found ourselves needing to more effectively communicate with our local leaders around our military bases to assist us in communicating that message more broadly. I think the loss of some of our military experiences– our World War II generation is passing– creates a gap in full understanding. It’s incumbent upon us to close that gap by increased communication. We’ve reduced 80,000 soldiers by the end of this year– from 2011 to the end of this year. 80,000 soldiers. It’s touched just about every military base in the United States, not to mention reducing in Korea and Europe. They are beginning to recognize that the reduction in our presence in these military bases has a direct impact on the local economies in a way that affects stability at home. We’ve got work to do to communicate how important it is to sustain a trained and ready military that can meet the needs that the nation has for it. Developing adaptive leaders for the uncertainty of the future is the Chief of Staff of the Army’s number one priority. I absolutely agree with that priority because it’s what’s enabling us to guide our formations at every level through this historic period of transition and deliver mission success in that environment. When you watch our soldiers at the team and squad and platoon level conducting missions around the globe– today, we’re in about 148 countries, 130,000 soldiers. Many of those missions led by young sergeants and young lieutenants and captains, and they are doing everything they can to deliver mission success. And it’s an absolute reflection of the commitment that we’ve made to their development, the empowerment that we give them to accomplish those missions. I believe it’s the investment that will enable us to continue to be the greatest army on the planet. Quite frankly, it’s what gives me confidence when a lot of other people might be wringing their hands given the resource environment that we’re in today.
Let’s talk a little bit about ethics. How do ethics factor into developing good leaders?
I mentioned to you that trust is our foundation. The reason that our soldiers trust us is because they recognize we are leaders of character who are founded in our Army values and we will do what is right, no matter the conditions that we find ourselves in. When soldiers operate in that environment, they are all-in to get the mission done and to care for one another. And we will remain committed to this great army profession.
Are ethics fluid? Do they change based on the needs of the day or the conflict that we’re involved in?
I do not support the concept of situational ethics. My belief is they are a part and parcel of our core values. They’re tied to our Constitution. And I believe the American people hold us to a firm and fixed set of professional ethics and we hold ourselves to those as well. The Army values have served us well for 239 years and they will serve us well going forward. One of the other platforms I’ve been running into is interoperability– getting it down to the nuts and the bolts.
How does interoperability factor into the Army Operating Concept?
One of the principles of our Army Operating Concept is that we have got to be prepared to operate with multiple partners, both in the interagency and with our multinational allies. That puts a premium on interoperability at every level, from the integration of partner capacity into our mission command systems, the interoperability of our tactics, techniques, and procedures at the tactical and operational level, and the interoperability of our concepts as we conduct larger scale operations. The great news about the partnerships that we have, especially with our most significant allies, they have joined us in our commitment to Force 2025 maneuvers. They are counting on the interoperability that we’re committed to and they’re going to work with us to ensure that we deliver that as a part of our operating concept.
I read a report recently that said that the Army’s having a hard time finding qualified recruits. Is that just physical or is it mental or social?
It runs the whole spectrum, the whole person. The fact of the matter is, only about 25% to 30% of American citizens can meet the prerequisites to join the military– not just the Army, the military. So we are competing for a very small section of our 17 to 24-year-old young men and women and we are committed to ensuring that the very best and brightest choose the championship team that is the United States Army.
What’s keeping them from being qualified?
It’s a combination of physical, medical, criminal background. It just has some very hard standards that many today are having a tough time meeting.
Are we getting pickier?
We are holding the standard. We are not lowering our standards on our accession quality. Our belief is that if you lower the quality, you increase downstream attrition and you add to the burden that we already have present in our non-medically-ready, non-deployable soldiers. So we need soldiers that are ready to serve globally as part of a globally-responsive army and we need soldiers committed to Army values and to one another. I had an opportunity to meet with some of our great youth as part of the Army’s All-American Bowl. There’s a lot of great young students out there that recognize the Army for what it is– a great profession, a great team to be a part of. More importantly, their families do. We’re going to stay committed to accessing the very best young Americans that want to make a difference and join a great team. So as you make your travels around the Army every day and you talk to soldiers and you get a sense of the climate,
what would you describe as your primary challenge?
I think it’s sustaining that trust in this resource-constrained environment and I think it’s ensuring that at the tactical level, that we’re able to keep our leaders focused on training their units to be ready to deploy. At the end of the day, it’s our job at the Headquarters DA level to fight to get the resources that they need. We need them to trust us to do that and to do what we empower and trust them to do, and that’s to train and care for our soldiers. If we do that effectively each and every day, our Army’s going to be in great shape, just as it has been for these last 13 years, certainly, deployed, answering our nation’s call around the globe.
What’s the future of the Army?
Our future is very positive. It’s an army that can excel under adversity. We’ve proven that certainly in the combat environment over this past 13 years. My belief is that experience, that resiliency, will ensure that we team together to remain the world’s preeminent land power well into the future.