Army Senior Leaders Update Reporters on Army Operations

Oct. 13, 2020
Army Secretary Ryan D. McCarthy; Army Chief of Staff General James C. McConville; Sergeant Major of the Army Michael A. Grinston

STAFF:  Hi, good morning, ladies and gentlemen.  Thank you all for joining us today here in the room and on the phone.  My name is Colonel Cathy Wilkinson.  I'm the Media Relations Director at Army Public Affairs.

This morning we have our Army senior leaders who will give you an update on where we stand in the Army as we start our virtual AUSA meeting.  Before we start, a few notes for the group.  We've been checking in people on the phone and also in the room, so I will call on you.  Please wait for me to call before asking a question.

We do have a lot of people on the line today so I do not know if we're going to get to everyone, so please keep one question and one follow up so everyone gets a chance.  We have 30 minutes.  Mr. Secretary, the floor is yours.

ARMY SECRETARY RYAN D. MCCARTHY:  Oh, good morning.  Appreciate everybody for joining us today.  The -- the Chief and the SMA and I really are grateful for the AUSA organization and for our HQDA staff and Secretary for putting on a -- an event of this magnitude during a global pandemic, where we're doing a -- a vast number of Zoom calls and trying to engage with industry, in other groups, and usually we get the opportunity for thousands of soldiers and civil servants from all over the world -- get to travel to Washington and it helps us put tremendous focus and energy on our agenda, to learn from the previous year and how to focus for the following.

So we're putting a tremendous amount of energy into that, in trying to make the time and space to allow the Army to get together.  We huddle with Congress, as well, and industry to discuss the way ahead.  So appreciate these efforts, as well as the opportunity for the -- to meet with the media.  I know we usually do it downtown and you get to see a lot of our efforts and joint work we do with the industry, in particular.

This week, we have announced a focus on people, as we seek to balance readiness with other ambitions.  We're in transformational change as we modernize our equipment, our weapons systems, our formations, and the way we fight in order to maintain deterrence and decisively win in the future.

People are the foundation of our organization and the last 19 years of sustained combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan has taken its toll.  Because of focused leadership, we've pulled ourselves from a readiness trough of two BCTs at the highest levels of readiness to over 27 BCTs today.

And just as we did with readiness, we must put the same energy and resources into our people.  With the help from Congress and our industry partners, we're now seeing our 31 signature systems coming online and modern equipment built around a soldier-centered design is landing within our soldiers -- in their -- soldiers' reach.

Tough fiscal decisions will be necessary as new equipment lands and we must rapidly scale our formations.  The Chief and I spoke about Project Convergence last month, which is the Army's path to transformation.  It's led by General Mike Murray of Futures Command and we just completed the first successful iteration in Arizona.

We're linking the right sensor to the right shooter to generate the right option, from influence to lethality, by commuting -- computing at the edge.  This has enabled us to reduce the cycle time of five minutes, from the long range precision fires and assets, to targets in less than a minute.

Tremendous, tremendous performance last month and we have iterations that will be coming in the future.  So this campaign of learning is helping us bring the designers and the scientists together with the soldiers at the edge and it's really compressed the span time for us in development of our weapons systems.

So as you can see, we're transforming in everything from our systems to our culture.  And with that, I'd like the Chief to open up for some comments and we'll take your questions.

ARMY CHIEF OF STAFF GENERAL JAMES C. MCCONVILLE:  Well, thank you, Mr. Secretary, and first of all, I'd just like you to know I've been screened and tested multiple times over the -- the last two weeks.  I was tested this morning and all negative and I've been cleared by the docs to come back in, so it's great to be with you all today -- and it -- no positive tests, all negative all the way through, and -- and -- and the most intensive testing.  So -- but -- but our -- out -- out of an abundance of caution, we did quarantine for a couple of days and -- and -- and met what CDC to -- and we have cleared this morning.

So -- and with that, every day is a great day to be United States Army because we serve with the world's greatest soldiers.  And today is a particularly great day because we kicked off this year's AUSA annual meeting, which is very -- a very special time for us, and I want to thank you all for being here.

The Army is people, and that's why our people -- that's why "people first" has always been our philosophy, and now, as the secretary said, people is also our number-one priority.  And for people, we are transforming how we manage talent in our Army.  We're in a war for talent.  We published the Army People Strategy, and we're rolling out the implementation plans for how we acquire, retain, develop and employ all of our people, to include our soldiers of all components and our civilians.

We've launched Project Inclusion.  It's our effort to ensure we have an organization that is truly inclusive and everyone feels like a valued member of the team.  And we continue -- continue to aggressively improve our five quality-of-life efforts:  housing, health care, childcare, spouse employment and PCS moves.  Another way is we are prioritizing people is by implementing the Regionally-Aligned Readiness and Modernization Model, or as we call it, ReARMM, to balance the operation tempo of our forces.  We are looking at ways to reduce requirements, enable leaders the additional time to invest in their people at the lowest levels, and we are changing policies to reinforce our focus on people.  And we take care of our people, we'll meet our readiness and modernization priorities, and we take care of our people, we'll have a stronger and more committed force.

We are moving away, as secretary, from incremental improvements and modernization in order to meet the challenges we face in the great power competition environment we live in today.  The time is now for transformational change.  We're excited to share with you over these next few days how the Army is going to transform to meet our future challenges.

I'm also excited about the opening of the National Museum of the United States Army, scheduled for Veterans Day, the 11th of November this year.  It's an amazing facilitary -- it's an amazing facility, and shares the history of our Army through the artifacts and stories of the soldiers that have served.  I hope you all get a chance to see it.

Thanks again for being here.

STAFF:  Okay, first question is on the phone.  Lita, please, A.P.

Q:  Hi, good morning.  First question for the chief, and on -- I'll -- I'll follow up, too, on Secretary McCarthy.  Chief, can you give us a little bit more detail on some of the things that you all are doing -- going to be doing about reducing deployments and other specific changes?  How -- have you made a decision on the reduction in deployment times?  Have you talked to other COCOMs on anything about it?

And my follow-up to the secretary:  Can you just give us a sense of whether or not there have been any agreements made with other law enforcement agencies about them wearing military uniforms in the event of other unrest and other events, particularly surrounding the election and (inaudible) --thank you.

GEN. MCCONVILLE:  Yeah, yes, well -- well Lita you know, on -- on the -- as far as the -- the -- the new model that we're working under, we -- you know, we -- our -- our soldiers have been highly-deployed over the last 19 years and done an absolutely fabulous job in conflicts, really, through the Middle East in -- in support of other COCOM commanders.  And what we realized as we've surveyed the force, that the OPTEMPO is still extremely high, even as the numbers of our forces in -- in combat have come down.  So we're taking a look at the rotational deployments.  We're working with the COCOM commanders to see how we can accomplish the mission in -- in innovative ways, and -- and we're going to see that coming out over the -- the next two years.

The second piece of that is -- is how we are training and preparing our forces for the rotational deployments.  There's things that we can do when they're actually forward-deployed, whether it's gunnery or it's a combat-training-like scenario that allows us to reduce the OPTEMPO on our units, and the intent is to give more time back to our sergeants at the lower levels so they have chances to build cohesive teams of highly-trained, disciplined and fit soldiers at the squad, platoon and company level.  That is the foundation of our Army.  It's the foundation of everything we do, and we just want to give our junior leaders that opportunity to do that.

MR. MCCARTHY:  Lita, with respect to your question, I know Secretary Esper has had discussions with Secretary Wolf related to the -- the uniforms because of the -- the concern of creating confusion.  I don't know where those discussions are at present, but we can follow up or -- or get the best read on the situation from OSD.  Okay?

STAFF:  Okay.  Ryan Browne, CNN.

Q:  Well, thank you for -- for doing this.  General McConville, first to you.  You -- thank you for letting us know about the self-quarantine process.  Are the rest of the joint chiefs also -- have their self-quarantines also come to an end?  Are you -- are you tracking that?

GEN. MCCONVILLE:  Well, I think -- I'm -- I'm not going to speak for the other members.  Each one, depending on the advice of their doctors, where they've been and -- and -- is -- is executing CDC guidelines, so I -- I'd -- I'd defer those questions to them.  But for -- for my own, so I'll be glad to have from my standpoint.  Been tested multiple times during all the -- all the events; very, very careful on, you know, wearing a mask, using the six feet, washing the hands.  I -- I actually personally test myself five days -- five times a day with the temperatures and all this type things.  We take it very, very seriously, but at the same time, as leaders there's things that we have to do in person.  We have to get out there, whether it was going to New York City or going to Washington state or going to our combat training centers that we -- where we have soldiers.  We have to be able to operate in this environment.  So we -- we take the threat very seriously and we use the mechanisms that are in place, and so far, that has worked out for us.

Q:  Thank you, General.  And -- and Mr. Secretary, to you.  In your unique role with the D.C. National Guard, do you anticipate any role for the Guard being played in the upcoming election, securing anything or having any kind of role, potentially?

MR. MCCARTHY:  There have been no requests from other agencies to support at this time, but we're always available to support, whether it's Metro P.D. or other federal agencies.

STAFF:  Okay, on the phone Defense News, Jen.

Q:  Hi, yes.  Secretary McCarthy, you told me recently that, you know, if -- if (inaudible) it's the -- a lower top line for a budget future, that one thing you will not sacrifice is quality of life for our soldiers and their families.  And you said that -- that you were going to make some announcements regarding some new efforts related to that.  Is that the ReARMM strategy, or are there some other things that you plan to be announcing at AUSA?  Can you just give me more of a rundown of what those things might be?

MR. MCCARTHY:  In the next, I think, day or two we're going to talk about housing and -- and some moves that we're going to make with respect to that.

With respect to ReARMM you know, I'll defer to the chief.  But that -- that'll help create more predictability in the system, whether we're communicating with the Office of the Secretary of Defense and combatant commanders, as well as internally, to -- to our formations.  But the -- the five quality-of-life initiatives that we laid out over a year ago we're going to talk about that and some of the substantial moves we're going to make in the coming months to continue to put more energy against that and give the quality of life to our men and women that they deserve. Chief, anyone have --

GEN. MCCONVILLE:  I think it's, you know, very, very important, you'll see the resources starting to align over the next couple years with the quality of life initiatives.

You know, we enlist soldiers, but we re-enlist families and we had a very, very good year this year on retention.  We want to keep that up, we want to compete for the talent of these great soldiers, noncommissioned officers, warrant officers and leaders we have.  And in order to do that, we have to provide a good quality of life for them.

STAFF:  Okay, here in the room, Lucas?

Q:  Lucas Tomlinson from Fox News.

Gentlemen, do you have any plans to have any active duty military police units train or begin training to handle any election security or any potential unrest in the weeks ahead?

MR. MCCARTHY:  You mean specific plans to specific cities --

Q:  Are there any -- yeah, are there any active duty military police units that are in training or plans to begin training for potential deployment in case there's unrest in the weeks to come around the election?

MR. MCCARTHY:  I don't think we have anything at present.

GEN. MCCONVILLE:  No.  I mean, there's no -- there's been no planning guidance given out from the Department of the Army directing any military police units to begin training for any situation -- but our -- you know, as a -- you know, our soldiers and our units are always prepared in training to conduct their missions.

But if the question is, has there been specific guidance given from us?  There has not been.

Q:  You've had 144 suicides in the U.S. Army among the active duty force, yet no active duty soldier that I know of has died of the coronavirus.  Which is a bigger threat to the U.S. Army right now?  Is it suicide or the coronavirus?

MR. MCCARTHY:  You want -- do you want to start --

GEN. MCCONVILLE:  No, I'll just -- I am very concerned about the behavioral health impacts of COVID and -- it is.  It's affecting our soldiers.  And you know, when you're the chief of staff, you're the secretary, you're concerned about what is affecting your soldiers.  And suicides is affecting our soldiers, that's why it's one of our top three priorities when it comes to things that we have commanders getting after.

And you know, some of the scientists have said they've not been able to show causation between COVID and suicide, but I would argue at least my sense is, it is having an effect because it disconnects people.  And when we look at, you know, the after-action reports of soldiers that have died of suicide, it tends to be situations where relationships have gone bad, where they start to feel that they don't belong, that they're a burden.

And you know, one of the initiatives that we have is this -- this give time back to our junior leaders so they can build these cohesive teams where everyone feels that they're part of the team.  And when there's an issue, they know who to go to.

And you know, you've all seen this with COVID, you know, especially during the beginning part, people were disconnected.  You know, the connection might only be a text between a leader, and that's why in some ways, we thought it was very, very important to get back to training our soldiers, bringing teams back together so they could take care of each other.

I don't know, sergeant major, did you want to add to -- talk about that with This Is My Squad?


SGT. MAJ. GRINSTON:  Yeah, this -- you know, probably about four months ago, we talked about the social connection and how do we do this.  And when I think of This Is My Squad, it's ownership, it's culture, it's positive.  But some of that needs to be, you know, active.

What I said was, at some point in time, I can go through my kids, you know, they like to text before they'll do a FaceTime.  If you call them, they won't answer the phone.  You text, they'll immediately answer.  So actually, that's how important it was to stay connected.  Because of some of the behavioral health issues we're seeing.

So I actually said, we should go, if you can't be next to each other, go with FaceTime first so you can still see the person, you can still see reaction.  And then zoom in that camera.  And then the second one is a voice, so you can hear voice.  And then the last is something where you can't see anybody, a text.

So I actually put out a PACE plan because we were concerned about some of the behavioral health issues.

Q:  Mr. Secretary, do you blame in part the lockdowns for this rise in suicide?

MR. MCCARTHY:  I don't know if I can categorically say that.  We're concerned about the isolation, and that's why we're trying to find effective ways to communicate with each other.

STAFF:  Okay, on the phone, Matt Cox,

Q:  Good morning.  Secretary McCarthy, could you talk a little bit more about pursing options for brigade combat, are brigades, combat training centers, you know that are mixed -- rotations that are mixed, you know, of battalion command post exercises, light and heavy rotations that you talked about in your comments earlier?

MR. MCCARTHY:  Yeah, I think it's probably far more effective if the chief comments on that.  This is respect to the training strategy.

So, General McConville, you want to weigh in there --


GEN. MCCONVILLE:  Yeah, I think, again, our combat training centers are the gold standard for preparing our organizations for large-scale ground combat operations, especially in this time of great power competition where we know that we will be contested in every domain that we're going to operate in.

So the combat training rotations you see today are very different than you may have seen four or five, six years ago that were focused more on counterinsurgency and counterterrorism.  And you know, and that's why it was very important that we -- we stood them up.

So we are conducting full combat training center rotations, we had 1/34 the National Guard went out there and did a great rotation.  We just had the 1st -- we have the 1st Infantry Division doing even a division-level operation out at the combat training center.

And at JRTC, we've had the security force assistant brigade out there, we've had two brigades from the 101st Airborne Division, and now we have the 2nd Brigade of the 25th Infantry with companies from Indonesia and Thailand because, you know, the partnerships is extremely important when we're conducting this training.

But these training events are designed to train the battalion and the brigade in large-scale ground combat operations, and -- and they're doing a fabulous job of working these rotations with the ever-present threat of COVID, which has made these a lot more challenging.

STAFF:  In the room, Tara Copp, McClatchy?


MATT COX:  Just as a quick follow-up, so there is no plan to change these rotations, brigade rotations from what they are now to smaller-scale for battalion commanders?


GEN. MCCONVILLE:  No, no.  Absolutely -- no, there's not.  I mean, the focus -- you know, one of the -- you know, a great lesson learned is, it's really where we get the -- the field training exercises or the gunnery type events.

I mean, what's not going to change is you know, the training that we're giving to our soldiers, our squads, our platoons and companies.  And then -- I mean, that's where the heavy focus is on the training strategy.  And then at battalion and brigade, you get that training at the combat training center.

It doesn't mean that you won't get that at home station, it just means that if there's a time constraint, what we're telling commanders is we want you to phone -- focus on foundational readiness, and foundational readiness is at this soldier, squad, platoon and company level, and make sure that we have these cohesive teams at that level that are highly trained, they're disciplined and they're fit, and then they -- they go on to the combat training centers and they do extremely well.

We saw this -- a great example was the 1/34 ABCT out of Minnesota and came -- it -- it -- it went to the National Training Center during -- kind of right after, you know, the peak of COVID.  Those soldiers were involved in COVID, they were also involved in some of the civil unrest-type operations, and they came in, trained up to the platoon level.  They just didn't have time to do much training after that.

But because they had a strong foundation, they were able to really do a great job out there and they quickly picked up on those other skill sets as -- as they went forward.  Ideally, we'd like to have them trained all the way up but what we're doing is giving instructions to the commanders -- make sure that you have your soldiers trained, make sure your squads, platoons, companies -- in some of the higher level training you may be able to do in simulation, you may be able to do in fire control exercises, but you've got to give time to the junior soldiers or junior leaders for the chance to develop their cohesive teams at the lowest level.

Oh, Sergeant Major, you want to comment on that?

SGT. MAJ. GRINSTON:  Yeah, I still think it's extremely valuable, for individual soldier readiness, to deploy to a JRTC or a National Training Center or even over to Hohehfels as you do those -- all of the things about how do you pack your bags, how do you make sure all of your family care plans are in order?

So these large scale events, although we build the base of the foundation still has individual readiness and prepares us for what we need to do, when you're at your home station, you're still at your home station.  You know that road, you know that -- where that road goes but when you go to NTC, you do a full movement.

And all of the individual tasks are extremely important, that's why I think those events, on a large scale, are still important for us to do, even though we may start with a foundational base but do a brigade movement over to JRTC, NTC -- is still extremely valuable.

GEN. MCCONVILLE:  Yeah, I just want to make sure -- maybe it'll -- as we answer the questions, I heard -- there's no intent to reduce Combat Training Center rotations for our units.  That's not, you know, what we're discussing.  We're discussing -- is what the prerequisites are to actually go to a Combat Training Center and how they fit into the rotational model.

STAFF:  Tara?

Q:  Oh, (inaudible) question.  For SMA Grinston, for many enlisted, this is probably the first election they're going to vote in, and there have been a lot of questions raised in the public realm about the reliability of a mail-in ballot.  I wanted to ask what has been done to encourage particularly enlisted that are now assigned to a base and not in their home state, to, you know, register, to get their absentee mail-in ballots sent in?

And then secondly, for Secretary McCarthy, I think the last time we were all in the room together was when everybody was responding to the June 1st protest -- maybe, if -- might've had one in between then -- and I wanted to know what is the status of the 15-6 investigation into these National Guard helicopters and why that report hasn't been released yet, and if there's an intention to release it before the election or hold it until after?

SGT. MAJ. GRINSTON:  Okay, thank you for the question.  Yeah, I would begin as I've been in the Army 33 years, so I've had many opportunities to do a mail-in ballot.  And since I've been in the Army, we've had voting assistance officers in every S1, G1 that I've been in.

So we do training, they -- you go to the G1, they say "here's how we can help you."  You can do the website but we also do specific trailing -- training so that a soldier has someone to go to in their unit to help them when they want to do a mail-in ballot, if they can't, you know, do it all on their own.

So this is no different than I've had since I've been in the Army, mail-in ballots have been what I've used almost every time that an election comes up, cause I've been in the Army, I've not been in my home state for a very long time.

So this is not new, we have voting assistance officers that will guide them through and help them out in every S1, which is the personnel action center for our soldiers, and this is -- this is common, we've done this for a long time.

Q:  This may not have buckled up to you but are you hearing any questions about "will it be reliable, will it -- this be a reliable way to get my vote sent in" for folks that haven't been doing this as long?

SGT. MAJ. GRINSTON:  I -- I haven't had any questions.

MR. MCCARTHY:  Well, the Army's completed its portion of the Inspector General investigation.  The DOD IG has -- they review these in these cases.  It's currently with the DOD IG, it's my understanding that it's imminent and it'll be released when it's completed.

Q:  Do you know -- is there any expectation that it's -- should be released before the election, just in case there --

MR. MCCARTHY:  That's at their discretion.

Q:  (Inaudible), okay.

STAFF:  Okay.  And last question on the phone -- Sydney Freedberg, Breaking Defense?  Okay, in the room.  Ma'am?

Q:  Hello, Sylvie from AFP.  You said earlier that if the D.C. National Guard is requested for -- after the election, you -- you are always available.  Do you have any plan to avoid being dragged on the political scene, as it happened in June, for General Milley?  Do you have any plan to -- how to handle that?

MR. MCCARTHY:  I wouldn't characterize us being dragged onto the scene.  The protests became very violent on Sunday evening, in particular, of that week and it was necessary to bring in the support to help local law enforcement and federal law enforcement officials, due to the tremendous damage, police officers and Guardsmen being injured over the course of that evening, in particular.

We support law enforcement, whether that is at the federal or state and local levels.  We don't police American streets.  So we -- in the -- in the instance of National Guardsmen being called up, that are uniquely trained and set for those types of operations, if we're called upon, we will ask and support that, to protect federal property and support law enforcement.

STAFF:  Okay, gentlemen, we are out of time.  Do you have any closing comments?

MR. MCCARTHY:  I'd defer to my colleagues, as well, if they'd like to but it's going to be tough for us in AUSA this week to communicate in this environment.  We have these chat rooms that have been developed.  We're going to have the screens in our offices to do follow ups.  We are going to make some additional announcements on initiatives that we have in place.  We're going to do the best that we can to communicate.

So there will be other opportunities for the media, I presume, and we'll try to make ourselves available accordingly but thanks for taking the time.  Chief?

GEN. MCCONVILLE:  No, I just -- I think everyone knows it's been a challenging year, with a -- with a whole bunch of things going on around the world, and then with COVID and wildfires and hurricanes and some of the social unrest.

I just want to say I'm just incredibly proud of our soldiers, from the National Guard, from the Reserves, from the regular Army, our families who have worked their way through multiple moves during this environment, through our Department of the Army civilians, and to our soldiers for life, our retirees and veterans who have, you know, stood in full support.  And we just appreciate the American people's support during these challenging times.  I cannot be more proud of our people in the Army.

SGT. MAJ. GRINSTON:  I guess it's like pile-on.  You know, what we've gone through in a year has really been unprecedented.  And most of the time I say, not everybody gets to be the Sergeant Major of the Army during a global pandemic.

But look at all the things that have happened throughout the years, really proud of how our soldiers have really, you know, gone through this year.  It's unprecedented, over a hundred years.  And then threw in the killing of Soleimani, then you threw in a COVID, then you have civil unrest.

And everything that we've done, our soldiers have been -- they go to -- to help in some of the pandemic.  And our families have been there to support them, and that's all COMPOs all the way, and it's unbelievable.  And I'm extremely proud of all our soldiers and our families.

STAFF:  Okay, thank you all very much for joining us today.