Joint Chiefs Chairman Outlines Priorities
By Paul Stone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Dec. 15, 1997 Since becoming chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in October, Army Gen. Henry H. Shelton has often been described as reserved ... unassuming ... the consummate warrior -- a man completely comfortable in combat boots and fatigues, and new to his current role of soldier-statesman.
During an interview, Shelton was confident in his priorities and seemingly at ease with his role as the nation's senior military officer and adviser to both Secretary of Defense William Cohen and President Bill Clinton.
And although he said he does indeed miss being "in boots," what he misses most is "the chance to serve with our great men and women day in and day out and actually have a chance to talk to them and get more direct input than I'm able to obtain in this job."
Prior to becoming chairman, Shelton commanded the U.S. Special Operations Command. He also has commanded the 82nd Airborne Division and the XVIII Airborne Corps, both at Fort Bragg, N.C.
Shelton characterized his current job as "an awesome responsibility" and said he is honored and deeply humbled by the appointment.
"Someone asked if I ever thought I would be chairman of the Joint Chiefs," he said. "In fact, when I was a second lieutenant, another lieutenant, one of my peers, was talking to me about his ambitions, and he said his plan was to make general officer. I found that to be astonishing, because my goal at the time was just to make first lieutenant. So it was a great surprise when I was asked to be considered as chairman."
Reflecting on his first couple of months as chairman, Shelton touched on a range of issues, including the Bosnia mission and the National Defense Reform report, but readiness was most on his mind.
Calling it No. 1 of his top three priorities, the general said he feels a great responsibility to make sure the forces are trained and ready to go when needed, pointing to the current Persian Gulf deployment as an example.
"When the crisis developed, no one asked if we were ready," Shelton said. "It's go to it. It's go to the sound of the guns, so to speak. That just underscores our need to ensure we maintain a high state of readiness."
The chairman's other two top priorities for service members are equipment and personnel, which he said are essential in supporting readiness.
"As I've said before, I don't believe in fair fights. I want us trained to a high level of readiness, and I want us with the latest equipment, the latest technology, so that if we're asked to fight we can use our capabilities to win the fight and redeploy as rapidly as we can."
The best equipment, however, will be of little value unless the forces are made up high-quality people, "just like we have today," he pointed out. "Therefore, I will fight to ensure we maintain the best in terms of quality of life. And that's pay, medical and dental care, housing and other things of that nature."
The chairman returned to his central theme of readiness several times, especially when discussing the Persian Gulf, Korea and the National Defense Reform report.
"One of the lessons that comes out of this [the current standoff with Iraq] is we can ill afford to ever become complacent -- to think that just because we're enjoying some of the dividends of the peace and dividends of the end of the Cold War that we are not going to be calling on our armed forces time and time again," Shelton said.
He described today's world situation as very unpredictable and complex, and much tougher to define than in the past.
"There are lots of lessons from the past that tell us if we don't keep them [service members] trained and ready, then we pay that price in the blood of the lives of America's sons and daughters."
Shelton complimented the recently released National Defense Panel's report, saying it dovetailed nicely with the direction the services are heading, and with Joint Vision 2010 and the Quadrennial Defense Review.
He said the panel's report confirms assessments already completed by the Joint Chiefs of Staffs and the individual services regarding the types of future threats, the training needed to address the threats, and the doctrine and equipment that will be needed. It also reinforced the direction of modernization programs such as the Army's Force XXI.
"The independent assessments many of the services and Special Operations Command had done saw the same types of threats out into 2010, 2015, 2020 -- transnational threats, asymmetric threats," he said. He added that the National Defense Panel's report also highlighted areas DoD is looking at, such as changing the structure of the unified commands.
Shelton took issue, however, with the report's criticism of DoD's two-major-conflict strategy. Citing the current instabilities in Korea and the Persian Gulf, Shelton said the United States faces possible major conflicts in both regions.
"We recognize there is a considerable threat right now of over a million armed North Koreans just across the DMZ," he said. "We're not sure how that's going to end up, whether it will be an attack to the south or a soft landing in terms of a collapse of their economy and the reunification of the two Koreas."
At the same time, he said, Desert Storm demonstrated how quickly the Persian Gulf region can explode. "That's a very volatile region," he said. "We can't ignore those, particularly with our global commitments and global responsibilities -- as well as our strategy right now of shaping the environment, being prepared to respond, even as we prepare for the future."
Shelton, who has visited forces in Bosnia on several occasions, said the quality of the force continues to impress him.
"I come out fired up. It's a real high to go in and have a chance to meet the great men and women of our armed forces -- to look at the difficult conditions under which they are serving and the magnificent job they're doing," he said.
The chairman said the Bosnia mission is going well and characterized the situation as relatively stable.
"But there are flashpoints," he warned, "and we've got to be prepared." He advised forces there to "stay trained and ready, stay on guard and remain flexible to respond to the SFOR [stabilization force] commander's requirements."
On another issue involving Europe, Shelton said NATO's membership invitation to the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland is an important issue not just for Europe, but the United States and its armed forces.
America's welfare and national interests are directly linked to the security and stability of Europe, he said. And anything America does to ensure European stability and security is certainly in the best interests of the armed forces -- the men and women who have to fight the nation's wars, he said.
Shelton pointed out the two world wars fought in this century were fought because of conflicts in Europe. Since NATO was founded nearly 50 years ago, there has been no major conflict among the NATO allies.