Army Secretary: Balance Needed as Wars Draw Down
By Rob McIlvaine
Army News Service
WASHINGTON, Nov. 3, 2011 With the drawdown of forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, talented soldiers will need to be retained while Army infrastructure draws down, and the American people and warfighters need to maintain a connection, Army Secretary John M. McHugh said here yesterday.
"You can't have an Army without people," McHugh told reporters at a Defense Writers Group breakfast, adding that the Army today is family-oriented, unlike the 1970s, when the vast majority of soldiers were single.
McHugh said it’s also time to take a look at the balance between contracting and providing government services.
"I think it was long overdue that the Army takes the opportunity to look at how it does its business,” he said. “We had outsourced a lot of jobs, hired a lot of contractors, and they did yeoman's work for us, but it was time after nearly a decade of that trend to take a better look at how we're doing things inside the Army. And I expect … by the time these [changes] are implemented, we could save, say by the year of 2017, upwards of $10 billion a year."
McHugh said he hopes these kinds of savings will contribute toward decreasing the deficit and the debt, and will, in turn, spur the economy. But without a budget, he added, decisions are difficult to make.
"Now, we're looking at possible options so that we can make smart decisions correctly, rather than not-so-smart decisions quickly,” he said. “But until we know what our figures are, it's kind of hard to say what we would actually take action against."
And whatever comes about, the Army secretary said, he believes the military needs to remain part of the American fabric, noting that the National Guard and the Army Reserve provide that connection.
"I would argue that the Guard and Reserve are terrific ambassadors across virtually every state and every community in this nation. … They put a face on the goodness that is military service,” he said. "Those that are operating in areas or states where we don't have a base are playing an even more important role, because they can help bring the military message to communities and people that otherwise don't have reason to be exposed to it."
Meanwhile, after 10 years of war with less than 1 percent of the population serving in uniform, McHugh said, the Army has to make sure it doesn't become an enclave unto itself.
"We're already scheduled and programmed to come down from current [strength], roughly [from] 569,000 to 520,000,” he said. “But for us, the glideslope by which we reach that end strength so that we can direct resources and balance ourselves, while providing the programs that are underpinning those forces, is equally important.”
End strength -- the total number of soldiers -- drives the Army’s cost, McHugh said. So if the budget goes down further, he explained, the end strength is likely to come down as well.
"What that will be will in part be determined, of course, by what that budget number is,” he said. “So it's not like we have a vote in this matter. We will, at the end of the day, be handed a budget. And our key objective, whatever that budget number may be, is to come out and shape an Army that is balanced and retains the great skills and capabilities that have been honed over the last 10 years.
“We don't want to lose this most effective land force the world has ever seen,” he added, “and balance is the key to that."
As the Army draws down in size, McHugh said, it has less need for facilities.
"At some point, we have to begin to look at rationalizing the vacancies, and would it make sense for us to support another [base realignment and closure process],” he said. “We don't want to be over-structured. That costs -- in fact, it wastes -- money. But at this point, we need to do a little bit more analysis."
The operating force has become incredibly adaptive over the last 10 years, the Army secretary said, recalling a recent trip to Afghanistan’s Arghandab Valley, one of the bloodiest battlegrounds of the war there.
"We took off our body armor and walked into a village about a half mile away, and the soldiers that led the fight to clear that part of the valley were now working with the Afghan elders,” he said. “They were establishing the Afghan local police with a special operations captain, a young man, and a first lieutenant, just over a year out of West Point.”
The young officers were exercising authorities and responsibilities the Army probably would have given to a brigadier general 10 years ago, McHugh said.
“Now, they were out there doing amazing things, and each and every day they change what they're doing, because the enemy changes,” he told the writers. “That's adaptability. That's creativity."
Young leaders accustomed to having such authorities and responsibilities in the combat theater over the past decade could become frustrated with garrison life, McHugh noted.
"How do we bring soldiers like that home, who have exercised such authorities and have shown such creativity, into a garrison environment and keep then interested and challenged and engaged is one of our critical challenges for the future,” he said.
"I've asked our [Training and Doctrine Command] folks, and I've asked leaders throughout the institutionalized Army, as to how we can reconfigure everything from social programs to education programs to flexibility and our rating system to allow more creativity and perhaps re-examine the traditional Army ladder of promotion to see what we can do to create an environment that keeps young leaders -- just amazing soldiers like that -- interested in the Army, and at the same time, of course, attracting those kinds of folks in the future.
That's not a budget problem,” he continued. “It's just a problem of our breaking out of our traditional way of thinking about things and trying to create a peacetime Army and opportunities in that peacetime Army that will keep the kind of incredible people that have been stepping forward and putting their name on the dotted line for the last 10 years coming to us.”