Chief of staff of the Army hopes to create balanced, stronger force

Story by Jacqueline M. Hames, Soldiers magazine

Gen. Raymond T. Odierno

General Raymond T. Odierno took the reins as the Army’s Chief of Staff in September of 2011 and hasn’t looked back. He issued his “Marching Orders” in January, outlining his goals and expectations for both the Army and individual Soldiers. He also emphasized the Army’s need to increase its responsiveness to combatant commanders, while getting leaner and remaining capable of delivering a range of options to national security leaders in a recent interview.

“The Army must be flexible, adaptable and versatile enough to respond and meet the national security needs of our country by being able to prevent conflict, shape environments to prevent future conflict, but if necessary win decisively if asked,” he said.

As a result of the completion of the mission in Iraq, the planned drawdown in Afghanistan and as part of the new defense strategy, the Army will become a more streamlined force. The strategy’s development was a collaborative process, in which both Odierno and Secretary of the Army John McHugh provided their input, ensuring the Army plays a significant role in the future while operating within budget constraints, Odierno explained.

“What that means to the Army is that we will reduce our end strength,” he said. “We’ve chosen to do that because of the changing dynamics. In the 2000s we increased our end strength because of our commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan. Now that we have come out of Iraq, and now that we are reducing our capacity in Afghanistan, we are able to, over a period of time, reduce our end strength. At the same time, I must point out that the Army of 490,000 (Soldiers) after 10 years of combat, is significantly more capable than the Army of 482,000 was in 2001.”

The chief believes it is important that the end strength of the Army be gradually reduced over a five year period, versus one or two years, because it can be done in such a way that the Army will still be able to take care of Soldiers and their families while maintaining its commitments in Afghanistan.

“We’ll never walk away from that,” he said, “and we will always ensure our Soldiers are capable, trained and ready in order to be successful to accomlish any mission, especially as we are doing today in Afghanistan.”

Despite the reduced end strength, the Army will maintain a versatile set of capabilities that span the broad spectrum of missions, Odierno explained, from providing logistical support to combatant commanders to a variety of combat capabilities such as missile defense, special operations forces and heavy mechanized forces to light units capable of rapid deployment.

Part of the Army’s versatility lies in its combat forces, which have the ability to be discriminately lethal. Limiting the amount of collateral damage on the ground is part of being a well-trained and capable force, which Odierno believes will be an important characteristic of the Army moving forward.

The versatility and structure shared by the active and reserve forces provide the nation a unique set of capabilities, he explained.

“I try to emphasize to everyone that one thing the Army does that no other service can do is provide depth,” Odierno said, stressing that when the reserve component is activated, it gives the Army increased depth to execute necessary operations.

The Army’s force generation process will be adjusted to help maintain that depth and versatility for the future with a focus on integration and synchronization as part of a larger force. Over the last several years, the Army has learned that just being part of a joint force isn’t enough. It has to be part of a joint, inter-agency, inter-governmental and multinational force, maximizing all of the Army’s capabilities as it moves forward, the chief said. To that end, there are three things the Army is considering.

First, Odierno explained, the Army is looking to regionally align forces to meet combatant commander requirements, through an adapted Army Force Generation model.

“That will allow us to learn and be more culturally attuned about what’s going on in the operational environment,” he explained. “We’ll be able to make sure we allocate forces for planning in order to have better synchronization of how we have used the joint force — maritime, air and ground forces — and we’ll learn to tailor those in order to support the combatant commanders.”

Second, Odierno believes the future Army will have a combination of forward-stationed and rotational forces that will help build relationships and train with allies and partner nations.

The third piece to maximizing the Army’s capabilities will be the Army’s pre-positioned stocks.

“Part of this will be viewing where our pre-positioned sets are and how that helps us to not only be prepared for contingency operations, but also to help us do multi-lateral training with many of our partners.”

It is important that Soldiers and their families understand what’s going on during the Army’s transition period over the next five years, Odierno explained, saying he will make it his job to make sure that no matter what happens to the end strength, readiness or modernization programs, the Army will still be the best in the world. 

To do that, there are some tough issues that must be balanced: rising energy costs, the growth of pay and compensation and the cost of leader development.

“We cannot continue to have and cope with the continued increase in the cost of energy that we have,” Odierno said. “We have to be able to mitigate that, we have to reduce our reliance on energy through several different programs — that’s one of the challenges we have.”

Reducing energy consumption will serve two purposes, the general explained: It will produce installation-management savings, and lower operational risk to Soldiers by decreasing the number of fuel convoys needed to sustain the force — a lesson learned after 10 years at war.

Odierno said the Army also has to adapt its training programs for both cost and complexity, ensuring officers and noncommissioned officers alike are trained to be adaptable in complex environments, while still keeping training costs within budgetary constraints.

The Army must also reduce the growth of future pay and compensation for Soldiers to ensure a balance between the benefits and the end strength of an all-volunteer force, explaining, “If we don’t make it in such a way that we can balance the growth of benefits with the amount of end strength we need, we’ll end (with) either too small an end strength with too much (in) benefits, or too (large an) end strength and not enough benefits.”

The ability to sustain a high-quality, all-volunteer Army is crucial, Odierno said, and paying for benefits plays a role in that. He emphasized that it is important to understand the implications of changes to any benefits program, and that such changes should be looked at with a comprehensive approach in mind.

“In other words, you can’t just look at TRICARE benefits, you can’t just look at retirement benefits (and) you can’t just look at changes in pay. You have to look at it holistically so we still have a package that recognizes the importance of our Soldiers, the importance of their sacrifices,” he said.

Of course, Soldiers aren’t the only ones making sacrifices for their Army. Families also shoulder burdens to help keep their Soldiers strong.

“I talk all the time about the strength of our Army, the strength of our Soldiers, of our families,” he said. “What we’ve done in the budget, in fact, we have not decreased at all our budget numbers for families.”

The chief explained that the Army hopes to spend $1.7 billion on family programs in 2013. He believes it is important to understand that the Army takes pride in caring for Soldiers’ families.

The Army has many different programs to help families deal with the hardships of military life, and its leadership has found that some are far more effective than others. “What we want to do is eliminate the ones that aren’t as effective and really spend more money on those that are the most effective programs, and that we continue to deliver those services to our families,” Odierno said.

“The Army is about people. We have, across the active, Reserve and National Guard, probably the most seasoned force in the history of the Army,” he added. “While we cannot predict the future of our increasingly uncertain and complex strategic environment, we can be certain that our nation will continue to call on America’s Army.”