Secretary of the Army John McHugh responds to a question during a lunch with Soldiers serving at Camp Victory, Iraq, Jan. 26, 2011.

BAGHDAD - The Secretary of the United States Army, the Honorable John McHugh, told Soldiers the Army\'s top priority is taking care of them and their families during his visit to Camp Victory Jan. 26.

McHugh, who made his 16th trip to Iraq, spoke with soldiers during an open-forum luncheon where he discussed their careers, the mission in Iraq and how the Army is working to improve how it takes care of military families.

"The purpose of my trip was to speak to the troops and make sure we are doing the right things for them," said McHugh. "We want to make sure we put the soldiers and their families first."

Also, McHugh said the Army's biggest challenge is to reduce the stressors deployed soldiers face, and one way he hopes to decrease the stress is to increase dwell time.

"The most important thing we can do is give people more dwell time at home," he said. "We are working very hard to get two years of dwell time for every year of deployment."

As the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan continue, McHugh credited the soldiers' efforts and sacrifices with how the Army has adapted to both wars.

"The soldiers coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan have taught us so much about how to develop an Army that can cover the full spectrum and is more than just ready for a full conflict," said McHugh.

During the luncheon, McHugh also answered questions about various topics from soldiers including military occupational specialties, the status of the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy and the Army's force management.

"I am honored and humbled to meet the Secretary of the Army," said Capt. Gregory Gebhardt, commander, Headquarters Support Company, Headquarters and Headquarters Battalion, XVIII Airborne Corps.

"It was nice to be able to ask one of the senior leaders of our Army about the repeal of 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' policy," he said. "He provided the troopers in the room with the most direct answer I've heard since the repeal of the policy."

Staff Sgt. Armando Rios, a motor sergeant with Headquarters Support Company, Headquarters and Headquarters Battalion, 25th Infantry Division, said he appreciated the opportunity to speak with McHugh during the luncheon.

"Eating lunch with the Secretary of the Army was definitely a great experience," said Rios. "I think it was awesome being able to talk to a person with his stature.

"It feels good in our level to know that there are people that actually care at his level," he said. "It's different when they talk about all the things they are trying to do for us on TV than when they talk to you face-to-face. I could tell he really does care about the troops."

In addition to speaking to soldiers about taking care of their families, McHugh also told the soldiers that their current mission is just as critical as it was at any point in the war. He told them to continue what they are doing to help the Iraqi people.

"I don't want anybody to think this is the forgotten theater," said McHugh. "Do your duty, do your jobs and continue to look out for each other. "This is the moment of success and you're the folks that we are relying upon to make it happen."

Page last updated Mon January 31st, 2011 at 15:52