Army Secretary: Balance Needed as Wars Draw Down

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.”

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)