Shelton Talks Change, Troops, Transformation
By Gerry Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Aug. 27, 2001 Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Henry H. Shelton reflected on change and present and future challenges facing the military during an Aug. 22 interview with American Forces Information Service.
The 59-year-old Army Ranger and Special Forces-schooled paratrooper is slated to complete his second two-year term as chairman and to retire Sept. 30.
Shelton, who received his commission in 1963 through the ROTC at North Carolina State University, said he was proud of his military service and that of U.S. service members performing duty worldwide. He also commented on recently enacted pay, housing and health initiatives that improve the lives of service members, and of efforts to transform the military for envisioned 21st century threats.
The chairman noted that things have "changed considerably" across the military since he pinned on his gold lieutenant's bars.
"We had a draft at that time and a force that was predominately single," Shelton remarked, adding that the majority of service members in today's volunteer military force are married.
The active components performed most of DoD's missions during the Cold War years, said Shelton, a Vietnam and Gulf War veteran. However, with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the ensuing drawdown, the reserve components had to shoulder more of the load.
"Today, it is a Total Force and we rely very heavily on our great troops in the Guard, as well as those in the reserves," Shelton said.
Shelton noted that today's military is 40 percent smaller than it was after the Gulf War. He said today's U.S. Army may be only the seventh or eighth in size in the world, but he "has watched it get better and better" throughout the years.
"I've seen the quality of our force continue to improve, to where today -- there is no question about it -- we have the finest armed forces in the world," Shelton said, adding he also has seen the quality of commissioned and enlisted leadership improve significantly.
The noncommissioned officer corps "sets the example for others throughout the world to emulate," he said. Commenting on today's officer corps, Shelton remarked, "I'm just glad I that don't have to compete against those young lieutenants and ensigns that I bump into as I travel around the world."
America's armed forces are the best in the world, but "we have significant challenges that we'll have to deal with in the future," Shelton said. One of those challenges, he noted, is to guard against complacency.
When Shelton spoke to Veterans of Foreign Wars members in Milwaukee Aug. 21, he said, he reminded them of history, and "the need to make sure that we're never surprised again."
Shelton said U.S. troops weren't ready to fight in the battle at Kasserine Pass in North Africa during World War II and in the Task Force Smith debacle during the Korean War. In both actions, ill-trained and badly equipped American units were forced to retreat.
"We were not prepared to carry out the missions our armed forces were given, and we paid a price in blood for having done that," he emphasized.
Another challenge for America's military is change, Shelton said.
"We need to make sure that we can change and transform our armed forces today to be prepared to deal with the 21st century threats that we will face, which may look a little bit different" from those of the past, he said.
"Cyber warfare -- certainly, we have to be prepared to deal with that," Shelton continued. "We've talked about (ballistic) missile defense and the need to protect American citizens against that, to include homeland security in a larger context."
Transformation isn't easy whether within DoD or in the corporate world, he acknowledged. "Institutional resistance to change is always something you have to contend with," he observed.
Military transformation is a complex endeavor, where leaders must not only prepare for today's threats, but also those foreseen in 15 to 20 years, he said. As the world becomes more automated and relies more on information technology, the armed forces need to maintain information superiority and be able to "protect our own systems from attack by an adversary," Shelton said. He also spoke of "sensor-to-shooter" technology "that will maybe even allow an unmanned aerial vehicle to respond with some type of robotic device to a threat."
Yet, Shelton emphasized that threats abound today.
"We've some nations today that concern us, [such as] North Korea," he said. "We've 38,000 great Americans in South Korea that stand guard day in and day out protecting America's interests along the DMZ.
"Over in the Persian Gulf, we have roughly 22,000 of our troops that on any given day are subjected to potential attack by individuals such as Saddam Hussein," Shelton noted. "Making sure that we're prepared to deal with that at a low to moderate level of risk is very important."
DoD's military and civilian leaders, Shelton said, "will continue to make sure that our forces are trained and ready today, even as we modernize the force, bringing in the latest in technology to ensure that we'll always have that technological edge when we put our men and women in harm's way."
He said incorporating those new capabilities costs money, and sometimes "creates the friction" for resources among the services, none of which want to be left out.
"But, I think we've got a good game plan laid out," Shelton emphasized. "The Quadrennial Defense Review is helping in that regard. I'm confident that we'll be in great shape for the future."
Back to the present day, Shelton said he is "thankful to get feedback from our troops in the field, whether it is the young airman, young Marine, soldier, sailor, and the NCOs and the officers, because they kind of frame the issues for us here in Washington inside the Pentagon."
Feedback from service members has prompted senior leaders to re-evaluate personnel policies and deployment schedules, Shelton said.
"It started off pretty heavily with perstempo and operational tempo the lack of predictability in their lives in terms of knowing what was coming next. I think we've made some great headway," Shelton said. "Are we there, yet? No, we're not, and part of the Quadrennial Defense Review's goal is to try to bring all that (perstempo and optempo) back into balance."
Listening to service members' issues has also resulted in better quality of life in the form of higher military pay, improvements in military housing, health care and retirement, he added.
"It helped us achieve the largest pay raise in the last 18 years," Shelton said, adding that more will be done in the military pay realm in the future. "We corrected the retirement system that had been changed back in 1986 that had made our retirement program more of a disincentive than an incentive for those that stayed for 20 years. We've been able to reduce the out-of-pocket expenses for housing for those who have to live off the installation."
Myriad improvements in the TRICARE health care system have also been made in recent years, Shelton said, to include "better business practices such as access and the management of the program, the transferability from one region to another reducing the out-of-pocket expenses for our active force." He recalled a visit to Fort Leavenworth, Kan., where he posed the question, 'Have you had an experience with TRICARE?' to 1,000 people representing all the services.
"Almost every hand went up and I asked, 'How many of you had a positive experience?' I saw almost no hands go up and I asked a whole series of questions and I got very, very negative feedback. We found out that this was something that we really needed to take on," he said.
Shelton noted that access to the system was a problem that has been mostly fixed. "Once you gained access, you couldn't ask for a finer group of people, doctors and nurses," he added.
He also spoke of times when he read letters from military retirees who expressed feelings of disenfranchisement over military health care. Their concerns, he added, were acted upon, and thanks to Congress military retirees will have access to the "TRICARE for Life" health care system.
"We made a commitment to them when we brought them in," Shelton said. "If you talk to any recruiter in the last 15 years, they'll tell you that was one of the selling points for a military career, so we said we've got to fix this."
Maintaining competitive military pay and benefits, to include retirement, helps to keep good people in uniform, Shelton said. The quality of today's armed forces will "remain our No. 1 challenge," he added, as the armed services and corporate America continue to compete for qualified young people.
"We must continue to appeal to young men and women, to bring them into the services by letting them know of the opportunities that exist in today's environment, and what they are really signing up for," he said.
The men and women who join the armed services "become members of America's 'first team,'" Shelton said. "We're the ones that America turns to when the chips are down. We provide for -- in part, at least -- for the great prosperity that our nation has today."