WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Aug. 14, 2015) — “I believe this nation is at an important inflexion point, specifically regarding national security,” Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno said.
Odierno spoke during a Pentagon press conference, Aug. 12, perhaps his last one, as he will attend a change-of-responsibility ceremony at 10 a.m., Aug. 14, on Summerall Field, Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall, Virginia. Gen. Mark A. Milley will succeed him to become the Army’s 39th chief of staff.
“Our security environment remains uncertain and dynamic,” Odierno pointed out, “with increasing requirements on our military while we continue to have decreasing resources in our military. This is of great concern to me.”
Threats the United States faces include Russian aggression in Eastern Europe, China’s increased military investment and aggressive posture in East Asia, the Islamic State and Sunni-Shia tensions in the Middle East, global terrorism and an unstable and provocative North Korea, he said.
Decreased resources will result in a decline of readiness and reduced modernization over time that is hard to quickly build back up, he said, adding that the situation will be much worse if sequestration returns in 2016.
Besides readiness and modernization, the active end-strength must not fall below 450,000, he said.
Odierno said that he’s not only concerned about where the nation and the Army are at today, but about events that could happen 10 or 20 years down the road. He pointed out that the Army has published doctrine over the last 18 months that address the Army’s role and how it will maintain its strategic overmatch while operating in an increasingly dynamic and complex world. Two of those documents are, he said, are the Army Vision and the Army Operating Concept.
Among the items the doctrine addresses are the need for the Army to be agile; have leaders of great character, competence and commitment; foster innovativeness; be interoperable with allies as well as the joint force; and be expeditionary, scalable and tailorable to meet several requirements around the world, he said.
What do you think is the top military threat to the United States, asked a reporter.
“I believe Russia is the most dangerous because of a couple of things,” he replied. “They are more mature than some of our other potential adversaries. They have some stated intents that concern me, in terms of how the Cold War ended,” and “they’ve shown some significant capability in Ukraine to do operations that are fairly sophisticated.”
A follow-up question regarded Russian designs on Eastern European NATO allies.
“Russia is constantly assessing the reaction of NATO to any of their actions,” he said. “What I worry about is miscalculation, that they perceive that NATO might not be as concerned and they miscalculate and do something that would violate Article 5,” which is the NATO agreement whereby if one member is attacked, the others come to its defense. He added that this “greatly concerns me.”
Odierno said that it will take a credible deterrent to stop an increasingly aggressive Russia. “A true deterrent is one where people worry that if they do conduct operations, there will be some level of response.” He added that the United States does have a deterrent there, but it needs to increase over the next several years so that Russia perceives an increased level of risk for aggression.
To increase deterrence, the United States needs to continue focusing on interoperability between the armies of NATO, and increasing training and capability. The United States must also ensure its military can get there quickly and sustain itself while there over time, he added. Some of that can be done by prepositioning equipment there, he said.
Asked if the United States is prepared for conventional war with Russia since the Army has been focused on counterinsurgency over the last 15 years, Odierno replied that the Army has been training for the “hybrid” threat for the last 18 months and will continue doing so.
The hybrid threat is a combination of conventional warfare and counterinsurgency. Odierno said he believes Russian aggression involves a hybrid threat.
He cautioned that training for the hybrid threat will be threatened should sequestration return. As of now, only 33 percent of the brigade combat teams are ready for that and the capability needs to increase to at least 60 percent, which will likely take several years.
MIDDLE EAST TURMOIL
Reporters asked Odierno what went wrong in Iraq.
Odierno replied that when the United States pulled its forces out of the country, a decision made in 2008, violence was down and the economy was growing.
The problem, he said, was “more political than anything else.” The infighting among the factions led to frustration, which in turn led to violence. This was the case in Syria as well, he noted.
The Islamic State took advantage of that frustration and exploited it to their gain in both countries, he said.
The Islamic State’s threat has since been “blunted” due to air strikes, retraining the Iraqi security forces and building up their capabilities, but it would be a mistake to think there’s only a military solution.
If the United States put troops on the ground and defeated the Islamic State, “six months from now, we’d be right where we are today.” Nations in the region need to solve the problem and be part of the long-term solution, he advised.
In addition to Iraq and Syria, the United States must continue keeping an eye on Afghanistan, the chief said, and keep the dialogue going with the governments of Afghanistan and Pakistan.
With regard to Iran, Odierno said the priority should be reducing the nuclear threat, but the United States cannot be naive about the nation’s willingness to engage in mischief in the region.
A reporter asked about women in Ranger School and entering previously closed jobs like artillery.
Odierno responded that this is related to talent management; putting the best people in the right job. He said the Army has worked hard over the last two years to ensure the standards are fair and valid across the military occupational specialties, and more work is being done. No advantage will be given to anyone.
As for the female Ranger candidates, he said the feedback he’s received is that everyone has been impressed by the incredible effort they put forth and their motivation. “Frankly that’s what we want of all our Soldiers,” he said.
There will be another integrated course at Ranger School in November and at that point the Army will determine if an integrated class will be permanent, he added.
RELATIONS WITH PRESS
Odierno thanked the press for the positive relationship he’s had with them over the last 15 years at the Pentagon and during his journeys around the world. He praised their coverage of the Army and noted that they raised important issues. “I’ve always enjoyed the time I’ve had with the press,” he said.
Finally, Odierno noted the incredible sacrifices of Soldiers, their Families and caregivers, who have helped Soldiers with their recovery process. The nation should continue to ensure caregivers are provided with the resources they need and programs remain in place to help Soldiers and veterans, he added.
The recovery process will be long term, he continued, particularly for those with post-traumatic stress.
As well, the nation should not forget the sacrifices of the fallen and their Families, he said. Regarding the Families of the fallen and the wounded, “we have to remain connected to them. I have meetings with Families and they love staying connected to the Army and units their loved ones were in. It’s incredibly important we do that. We should never forget the sacrifice they made and their families make. That’s something I’ll live with for the rest of my life.”