WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Oct. 14, 2014) – “We are the greatest land power the world has ever seen. We are the indispensable Army of the indispensable nation,” said Secretary of the Army John M. McHugh, referring to remarks President Obama made of the U.S. being the world’s go-to nation when trouble arises.
The secretary added that the Army has a capability and capacity that no one else can replicate. McHugh was the keynote speaker today, at the opening ceremony of the Association of the United States Army Annual Meeting and Exposition held at the Walter E. Wasington Convention Center, here.
Soldiers are now in some 150 countries, he continued, including the 10th Mountain Division (Light Infantry) and 1st Cavalry Division in Afghanistan. In the Philippines, Soldiers from the Joint Special Operations Task Force are part of the Army’s rebalance to the Pacific. In Korea, Soldiers of the 2nd Infantry Division are ensuring stability in that volatile region. In Ukraine, Soldiers from the 173rd Airborne Brigade were in Exercise Rapid Trident.
“Our Soldiers went to Ukraine by invitation of the government, unlike the naked aggression displayed by Russian forces,” McHugh said.
More recently, he said, Soldiers from the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) and Army engineer units deployed to Liberia to help fight the Ebola epidemic. Soldiers of the 1st Infantry Division headquarters deployed to Iraq.
“Yes, we are the indispensable nation,” McHugh explained. “When trouble comes, no matter the challenge, they don’t call Beijing. They don’t call Moscow. They call us, the United States Army. And, despite predictions of many, the calls keep coming.”
Airplanes and ships alone can’t win wars, McHugh said.
“As important as they are, no Hellfire-equipped drone ever reclaimed lost territory,” he said. “No Tomahawk missile ever conducted a ground counteroffensive. No bomber ever mentored or trained soldiers of allied nations building up capacity. Now, more than ever, we, this nation, need our Soldiers.”
As budget constraints force a drawdown, the Army must maintain a balance between readiness, modernization and manpower, he said. But that could be even more difficult next year.
If sequestration returns in fiscal year 2016, the tough choices and gains made during the reprieve this past year will dissipate and “another round of indiscriminate cuts will gut our force so we’re unable to meet the president’s defense strategic guidance,” McHugh said.
“As I’ve told Congress repeatedly, this is a time for predictability. This is not a time for politics,” he said, referring to the need for predictable, long-term funding.
Immediately following the Opening Ceremony, McHugh and Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Ray Odierno held a joint press conference.
Odierno said the next eight to 12 months will be one of the most important times in the nation’s history, as decisions are made about what the nation will do with its military. He was referring primarily to budget decisions and how that will impact the force and operations that are and will be required.
Even as the uncertain legislative process grinds on, the Army is busy planning for a range of options.
The Army Operating Concept, to be unveiled this week, will show the way ahead for the Army in the next 10, 15 and 20 years, Odierno said. “I’m excited about it and I think our Soldiers are excited about it.”
One reporter questioned how the Army could come out with a new operating concept with so much budget uncertainty and global instability. Odierno responded that the Army has to continue planning, even as unpredictability and uncertainty increase. “The intellectual has to precede the physical.” Also, the Army Operating Concept itself addresses the Army amidst global turmoil and uncertainty.
While the Army Operating Concept will be the intellectual guiding force, the development of that leader who can operate in unpredictable environments will be vital, McHugh added.
Odierno then addressed a question on how well the U.S. military was doing against ISIL, or the Islamic State.
“We’re watching the situation very carefully,” he responded. “The airstrikes are helping slow down the (enemy) advance. It’s buying us time so we can continue to train the Iraqi security forces.”
But it’s more than just training them, he acknowledged, something the Army has been doing with the Iraqi security forces for a number of years.
The problem with the Iraqi security forces over the last few years is they haven’t trusted their leaders, so they “abandoned their posts, which was really disappointing to me,” Odierno said.
“While airstrikes are not going to solve the problems by themselves, you’ll need forces on the ground,” he continued. “That buys us time so we can train Iraqi forces on the ground as well as the Peshmerga forces in the north.”
It will be a coalition effort and will not be resolved overnight, he said.
“People don’t realize how difficult it is to conduct airstrikes, making sure you don’t have collateral damage,” he said. “So we’re going to be very careful.”
“We were surprised by (the Islamic State’s) capability,” Odierno admitted.