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Tired Force Excelling, Service Secretaries Say

By David Vergun Army News Service

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WASHINGTON, Oct. 24, 2016 — The Army is not a broken or hollow force, Army Secretary Eric Fanning said today, but it's “tired, because we've been running it hard for such a long time now, and there's no end in sight to the high optempo."

Fanning was joined by Navy Secretary Ray Mabus and Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James during a panel discussion moderated by CNN Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr at the Center for a New American Security here.

All three service secretaries proclaimed that the United States is ready to fight a near-peer adversary simultaneously with a drawn-out battle on terror, despite a tired force -- the caveat being a certain amount of risk for lives lost due to less-than-ideal manpower, training and weaponry brought on by lack of congressional action to loosen its purse strings.

Tired, But Ready

Mabus said his sailors and Marines are ready to defend America any time and any place, with the notable exception of Norfolk, Virginia, which he said could be under water in a few decades if nothing is done to stop climate change.

Also related to climate change, he said, his ships are prepared to enforce international law once the ice melts in the Arctic and the Russians try to force hegemony over what they claim is their ocean.

Fanning said the Army is ready to fight no matter who is elected president Nov. 8. He predicted that the day after the election, teams from the new administration will show up at his door in the Pentagon, seeking counsel and giving their own as well, and that he's ready for that.

Regarding those teams from the new administration, James said, she expects them to stop by her office as well, and she's prepared to go over the nation's future nuclear posture with them and "look at the state of the nuclear enterprise."

"Nothing will fall through the cracks during the transition," Mabus said. "We're ready," he said, but the Navy would certainly like a few more ships, he added.

On Nov. 9, "we'll get up, come to work, and discuss the returns, then get to our appointments," James said, noting that she'd especially like an appointment with the new team to discuss stopping sequestration and continuing resolutions.

Fanning said he's a bit skeptical on getting things done quickly, based on how long his own confirmation took.

As Army secretary, Fanning said, he feels an appreciation for the "tremendous autonomy" he has, compared to when he was working at the Office of the Secretary of Defense. He said he's ready to push through much-needed programs that will save the lives of soldiers and defeat America's enemies.

There are two things he said he'd avoid doing that could kill those projects, the Army secretary said, the first being to say "we need to study this more" and the second being "this should be DoD-wide." The latter concern was that the project would get watered down to fit all of the services, thereby making it less effective. Each service should be an incubator for experimentation and competition, he added.

Tired, Yet Talented

Now, more than at any time in the nation's history, those overworked soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines are doing a tremendous job, given the mission and equipment they have, the trio said. One of the main reasons for this talent is the diversity the Defense Department has achieved, they agreed.

Diversity is not just race and gender, they said, but means the force is representative of the nation as a whole, from geographical locations to the many types of talents service members bring with them.

But it hasn't always been that way, said Mabus, who ticked off a list of landmark decisions that opened the way to more diversity in the total force: desegregation, end of "don't ask, don't tell," and more recently, the inclusion of women into every combat specialty, except for the notable exception of Mabus's own SEALs.

Each of these decisions has led to a stronger and more resilient force because of the diversity of opinions and experience each person brings, Mabus said. Besides that, he added, the force owes it to the nation to represent its citizens in as many ways as possible.

Teams with the greatest diversity have the greatest innovation, James said. Industry is beginning to understand that too, she added, comparing diversity to a toolkit. "When the only tool you have is a hammer, then every problem looks like a nail," she said.

The force is stronger when it reflects society, Fanning said. "Everyone should be able to serve and see a future for themselves," he added.

Diversity Problem Areas

The service secretaries pointed out that their services are not yet at the point they'd like to be at when it comes to diversity. For instance, they are not attracting the talent needed in the cyber force, they said.

Fanning said the Army can't win on salary alone, but it could attract more by appealing to a sense of patriotism and the Army's "unique mission."

James said the Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve are attracting "top-notch" people who can keep their civilian jobs while defending America.

Mabus said the Navy is growing its talent by sending its cyber operators to private industries to bring back great ideas when they return.

A particularly difficult problem of achieving full diversity is getting women to stay in the military, Mabus said, because women have to make the choice to serve or dedicate more time to family.

To stanch the outflow of women from the Navy, Mabus said, the military has increased maternity leave from six to 18 weeks and is looking at giving service members three years off, with the option to return to duty where they left off. The Navy also has "co-location policies for better choice," he added.

Regarding getting the military to the point of greater diversity in every sense of the word, Mabus said: "It's not about gender, who you love or the color of your skin. If you can do the job, you should get the job."