GEN Odierno: Leader development #1 priority
Army chief of staff Gen. Ray Odierno is interviewed by James Sciutto, chief national security correspondent, CNN, Feb. 11, 2014.

WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Feb. 12, 2014) -- Amidst the drawdown and the "hammer of sequestration," the Army's No. 1 priority in the budget continues to be leader development within both the officer and noncommissioned officer ranks, said Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Ray Odierno.

"We cease to be effective as an Army if we let that go," he said.

The general spoke during a discussion at the Council on Foreign Relations, Feb. 11, in Washington, D.C. The discussion, led by James Sciutto, chief national security correspondent, CNN, centered around strategy, the budget, rebalance to the Asia-Pacific region and lessons learned from war.

It's important that the Army retain the lessons learned over the last 12 years of war and "incorporate them as we look toward the future," the general said.

To do that, he said, the Army recently published its leader development strategy as well as an array of new doctrine focusing on mission command.

The leader development strategy focuses on a "leader-centric view of being adaptable, flexible, and able to adapt to the situation on the ground," he said, adding that the future environment is likely to be "complex and asymmetrical" with insurgency, conventional warfare and a rapid flow of information within and between the populace.

That means Soldiers on the ground will have to call the shots in a decentralized fashion, he said, rather than calling up the chain through higher headquarters.

That sort of snap decision making, he said, calls for highly-developed critical thinking skills -- making informed and effective decisions in the midst of chaos, decisions that might one moment be military in nature and diplomatic the next.

A tangential but just as important part of leader development, he said, is continuing the cultural change of the military to one where no form of sexual harassment or unethical behavior is tolerated.

The general said when he talks to Soldiers about the profession of arms, he often focuses on what he calls the "three Cs," which include competence, commitment and character. "That's what underpins everything we do," he said.

He said there are some Soldiers who are not meeting the standards the Army has, but the "large majority" of Soldiers are. Still, he said, "we can't tolerate those that do not."

Odierno then went on to answer questions about various regions of the world, beginning with Iraq.

Addressing the recent increased level of violence there, he said the country faces governance challenges with a continuing mistrust of political entities which others have exploited through violence.

With an election coming up in Iraq this year, Odierno said he's hopeful the government will come together and effectively represent all of the people.

"What it's going to take is the politicians to come back together," he said. "They have an election coming up this year. And how that turns out will really probably dictate how well they move forward in Iraq."

Asked if he thinks the U.S. military remaining there would have made a difference, he replied, "I'm not sure it would have made much difference if we had a small force on the ground. What it would provide is confidence. Maybe it would have allowed us to put a bit more pressure on the political entities in order for them to maybe reconcile a bit more than they did. Maybe that would have made a difference, but it's hard to say."

Replying to whether he thinks the costs were worth it, he said "I will never forget the costs ... the men and women of the military did their job ... they left Iraq in a place that had peace, that had stability, that gave them the opportunity to move forward ... they should be proud of what they did."

Considering the situation now in Iraq, Odierno said that for those in uniform, "it's difficult for us to watch it now," but noted that "there's still a lot to play out yet."

The focus then shifted to Afghanistan, a place Odierno just visited last week.

He said Afghanistan has moved forward significantly, especially in the last two years.

"I think we're in a place now where they have the capability to defend themselves," he said. But also that "what they are not yet ready to do is, their institutions are not yet mature enough to sustain this over the long [term]. So I think it's important that we stay to help them to establish their institutions."

He added that the U.S. still has a role to play in assisting with counterterrorism work and he said "it doesn't have to be in large numbers, but we have to stay there to support them, so they can continue to progress forward."

In comparing Iraq and Afghanistan, Odierno said Afghanistan is disadvantaged economically -- they don't have the petroleum resources Iraq has, but Afghanistan's population, though tribal, is more unified in terms of religion.

The biggest threat to Afghanistan, he said, is the return of the Taliban. With elections coming up in April, he said it's important to see a peaceful transfer of power and to see signs the country is moving forward.

Focus then shifted to the Asia-Pacific region, a vast area extending from California to India. Odierno said that region is so significant economically and politically that the Army recently elevated its U.S. Army Pacific general to the four-star rank.

Because of the wars in the Middle East, the rebalance to the Pacific in terms of Soldiers and capabilities they bring will be gradual but inexorable, he said.

He pointed out that there currently are 82,000 Soldiers in PACOM, the most of any service.

The focus on the U.S. presence there, he said, will be to engage and build relationships with all of the countries. The Army can provide a lot of capability for those countries in terms of training, humanitarian assistance and other cooperative efforts.

Although the U.S. maritime presence there will always be vital, Odierno said the Army has a large responsibility to play in working together with the other services.

"We provide a large part of the logistics, a large part of the command-and-control capability, obviously, a large part of the missile defense, a large part of the engineering capability throughout the region in order to support all the services," he said. "And so for us, it really is important as we rebalance towards the Pacific."

The questions to Odierno then shifted from regional to worldwide responsibilities.

Other countries, he said, still expect the U.S. to lead, he said. "I think it's important that they understand that we're still capable of doing that."

Maintaining its leadership role in the world, Odierno said, will require an adequate budget. It will also require a level of manpower that can get the job done.

The recent bipartisan budget agreement cut sequester in half for only one year, he pointed out, and that has helped some.

However, lawmakers have "started to listen," he said. "It helped significantly for this year, and we're very thankful for that. And what it's enabling us to do is buy back readiness that we were starting to lose."

He also said the breathing room congress provided gave the Army more time to properly reduce its end strength "so we have that match between ... readiness, end strength, and modernization."

Odierno said the easing of sequestration will help this year but only a little in 2015 and then full sequestration resumes the following year.

Having adequate funds and manpower is not only important in the long term, it's also essential in the short term, he said, pointing out that there are about 60,000 Soldiers deployed worldwide -- 30,000 in Afghanistan, 20,000 in other parts of the Middle East and 10,000 in other parts of the world.

"What I'm worried about is, as we get through this three-to four-year window, where we kind of get back in balance, I believe for the Army, the end strength is really too small in order for us to meet the requirements that we might have to conduct in the future, and that's my concern," he said.

To fight one major conflict, the general said, he feels the end strength of the active Army needs to be about 450,000, the Army National Guard needs to be about 335,000, and the Army Reserve needs to be about 195,000.

If the Active component were dropped to 420,000, he said, "we lose -- that last 30,000 makes a huge difference in capabilities that we have."

The general said there is also a quality to having an Army large enough to make potential enemies take notice, and seriously consider their plans.

"I think if you get too small, you lose your ability to compel and deter those from making bad decisions," he said. "You know, that's one of the things I very much worry about, is you look at wars throughout history, it's about miscalculation by leaders who believe that there was not enough capability to go against them or the will to go against them, so it's important that we sustain enough capability to make sure that people don't miscalculate, so we don't go to war."

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Page last updated Wed February 12th, 2014 at 00:00