Transforming the Army: Maintaining a balanced force

Story by Jacqueline M. Hames, Soldiers Live
1st Lt. Audrey Griffith points to an area of interest while standing guard with Spc. Heidi Gerke during a force protection exercise at Forward Operating Base Hadrian in Uruzgan province, Afghanistan, March 18, 2013. Both women are members of the 92nd Engineer Battalion. (U.S. Army photo)

1st Lt. Audrey Griffith points to an area of interest while standing guard with Spc. Heidi Gerke during a force protection exercise at Forward Operating Base Hadrian in Uruzgan province, Afghanistan, March 18, 2013. Both women are members of the 92nd Engineer Battalion. (U.S. Army photo)

The Army is readjusting its operations after more than 10 years of war. Troops are returning home in a time of fiscal uncertainty, which presents additional challenges to the force-balancing effort. Whether it’s integrating women into combat units, developing leaders or balancing the budget, senior leaders want Soldiers to know the Army is prepared for whatever demands lie ahead.

The Army is the most complex of all the services, Under Secretary of the Army Dr. Joseph W. Westphal said.  As the service’s chief management officer, Westphal sees the Army as a business organization that relies on civilian and military cooperation to function smoothly. Each side plays a role in maintaining the training, equipping and readiness of Soldiers.

“Under Title 10, the responsibility for us is to generate trained and ready forces for any potential contingency the president sees in the future. So, we need to have that at a moment’s notice,” Westphal said. “The cost of maintaining and sustaining a force has to be leveraged against some long-term planning.”

Westphal said he believes one of the challenges the Army will face will be planning for efficient resource allocation across all the needs in the force. “I think our ability to focus our Soldiers on the mission and then do what we have to do to meet those requirements is really the biggest challenge we have,” he said.

“We have to set some priorities as we move forward,” Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Raymond T. Odierno added. “We’re coming out of 12 years of war, but we’re also in a time of fiscal uncertainty. It’s a combination of those two things that we have to make sure that we keep the Army on the right path, so there’s several things we need to do.”

The Army’s number one priority will be leader development, he said, because the strength of the Army lies in the officer and noncommissioned officer corps. Soldiers’ strength is in the training they get, their flexibility and adaptability, which will need to be maintained in an ever-changing world where all facets of warfare are becoming more complex.

The second priority will be maintaining an Army that is globally responsive and regionally engaged, which means tailoring capabilities to meet the needs of regional combatant commanders, Odierno said.

“You will see us align forces to combatant commanders, we’ll see the opportunity for Soldiers and our leaders to operate across many different areas of the world, from the Pacific to the Middle East to Latin America as they support combatant commanders,” he said.

The Army will be downsizing because of fiscal constraints, Odierno said, but will maintain readiness and continue to have the best equipment. “We will do less. We’re not going to be able to do all the same missions that we did before, but what I want to add is that the Army, no matter what the size is, (will) be the best capable Army possible,” he said.

In the coming years, the Army will be required to reduce the active duty force from 570,000 to 490,000 Soldiers, Vice Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. John F. Campbell said, and the National Guard will reduce its authorized end strength by 8,000, while the Reserve has already reduced its numbers by 1,000. Unlike the changes in the active component, force reductions in the Guard and Reserve will not directly result in any unit deactivations.

“The drawdown will occur over time, and will be done with dignity and respect,” Campbell stressed. “It will be orderly and afford affected Soldiers adequate time to take advantage of the many transition services the Army provides. We will take care of these people. They have served honorably.”

Secretary of the Army John M. McHugh is confident that the Army can take the lessons learned in the past 12 years of war and embody them in a highly structured, highly trained and highly professional force.

“I think the chief and I have made a prime commitment (that) whatever our resources may be, whatever our end strength may look like, we want to avoid the mistakes of the past,” he said.  “We want to ensure that we do those things that keep us a balanced force, that we’re providing the readiness, the modernization, the equipping and the training that our forces need to be ready for whatever tomorrow’s missions may be.”

Whatever they are, however, tomorrow’s missions will include integrating women into combat military occupational specialties previously closed to them.

“I’ve been to Iraq and Afghanistan 22 times. I’ve never been there when I haven’t seen women doing very important work and doing it incredibly well,” McHugh said. He added that for the most part, this integration will be business as usual, and that the Army will ensure that it will be done methodically, in the best way possible.

“At the bedrock of this will be our effort to put into effect training standards that are MOS-specific and are gender-neutral,” he said.

Women make up about 16 percent of the Army, Odierno said, and it is important to optimize their talents. “We want to open up opportunities for women to serve where it best fits their capabilities,” Odierno said. Over the next several years, the Army will study how women are integrated into combat MOSs and ensure they are successful and continue to move forward in their careers.

“As an Army, again, it’s about using our best talent. It’s about talent management,” he said.

McHugh emphasized the integration will not mean a lessening of standards, but instead, will provide equal opportunities for men and women to contribute to an MOS in effective ways. “We want to ensure that every Soldier has a chance to succeed in the most equitable way possible, regardless of background or gender.”

The Army is a people-driven force, Westphal explained, affected by a host of issues, from tragic things like sexual harassment and suicide, to more positive things like technological advancements.

“Our country, its economy, its social fiber, is continually changing,” he said, “and our Army has to keep up with that.” With that in mind, there are incredibly exciting and challenging aspects to the future of the Army, Westphal added. Maintaining a diverse force will be a big factor in the Army’s ability to adequately represent the American people.

“We’ll have a smaller Army,” Odierno admitted. “We’ll have an Army, though, that has an incredible amount of quality leaders, quality Soldiers, and I think in the end we will have an incredibly strong Army going forward.”