FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. (May 10, 2013) -- Secretary of the Army John McHugh visited Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., May 9-10, 2013, for the second time during his tenure as the top Army official, but this trip was different than his last venture on post.

McHugh had previously come to the installation days after an F3 tornado had destroyed dozens of homes and damaged scores more on Dec. 31, 2010. This visit focused on the mission of Fort Leonard Wood and the unique training opportunities the post handles.

"The challenge when you come to a place like Fort Leonard Wood is that you have so many schools and activities, it's hard to take it all in," McHugh said.

"Last time I was here, was after a tornado, but it's good to be back and I applaud the recovery effort that occurred," he added.

McHugh said that he sits through a lot of briefings in Washington, but there is no substitute for coming out and being in contact with Soldiers.

"These are the folks that are answering the call of freedom every day and I want to make sure we are taking care of them," he said. "There is no better way to know how you are doing in taking care of them, than to ask them."

McHugh had lunch with several drill sergeants and platoon sergeants before observing training at various sites on the installation.

"I enjoyed having lunch with highly-skilled, trained and professional noncommissioned officers who play such an important role in training our force," McHugh said. "Commanders should continue to identify the very best Soldiers to go to drill sergeant school."

As for the budget constraints the Army currently faces, McHugh said it was much like the old Yogi Berra quote as "Déjà vu all over again."

"In 2011, we had 10 continuing resolutions," he said. "We will continue to face budget challenges, but that cannot deter us from maintaining a strong force. Uncertainty and lack of predictability make it terribly difficult to plan and execute our missions."

"Today we live in a far less certain world than any time in our nation's history," McHugh said. "The next adversary of the Army hasn't popped up, yet, but we know that at sometime in the future it will, and the Army will be ready to face it."

Following a tour of the 43rd Adjutant Battalion's reception station, McHugh visited the Lt. Joseph Terry Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear School, or CBRN, facility and later observed training of a Special Reaction Team in Stem Village.

"The training conducted here at Fort Leonard Wood is relevant to today's threats. For example, I observed our multi-service, hands-on training in CBRN, civil support and countering weapons of mass destruction today. This training equips CBRN Soldiers and sister service CBRN professionals with the specialized skills that the nation requires to conduct operations in all hazardous environments and to advise the commander in combat and in support of civil authorities in the homeland," McHugh said.

On Friday, the Secretary observed training at the Sapper Leader School with a focus on the gender integration of the school.

"We're (the Army) in the midst of establishing gender neutral requirements for each job, man or woman. The standards will measure not whether you are a man or a woman, but can you do the job at hand," McHugh said when asked about integration of women into combat roles. "I've spoken to a lot of Soldiers, female and male, and they overwhelming support that kind of approach, and if you look at the Sapper School, I think we have pretty good validation of that approach."

McHugh took time out from his schedule to address local media and spoke about potential changes in the future force structure.

"They had a terrific listening session here with about 1,200 people, and the Army likes to be where it's liked," he said. "It's good to know that we have a very supportive community behind us here, but frankly that's not a surprise. We didn't just discover this at the listening session," McHugh said. "This support goes back many, many years before that."

"This (budget constraints and force reduction) is a challenge that we are being called upon to face," McHugh said. "As an Army, we are going to have to come down to 490,000 troops, 60 to 70,000 fewer than we have had in recent years.

"These will be hard decisions," McHugh said. "They will focus primarily on the Brigade Combat Teams, but there will have to be some changes in the placement of the support activities, the enablers, of which you have some here."

As for a decision on any of those changes, McHugh indicated it would be sometime in June before a decision is announced.

McHugh added that it's important for him to conduct trips like this one as he learns of programs and functions unique to Fort Leonard Wood.

"There are a tremendous amount of good functions happening here. From the cutting-edge forensics to combating sexual assault to the activities to counter terrorism, there are a great deal of very positive programs here," he said.

"Fort Leonard Wood has a lot of great things going for it especially with the joint training, which I hope they continue to look for more opportunities," McHugh said.

Following a visit with the military working dog unit, McHugh concluded his tour of Fort Leonard Wood speaking privately with the family of fallen Soldier, Spc. Charles McClure.

Page last updated Fri May 10th, 2013 at 22:10