It's impossible to look back at the United States Army over the last year without thinking about the past few weeks and the sad and somber observation of the 10th anniversary of the September 11th attacks. Since the terrorists attacked our nation just a decade ago, more than 2 million troops have served in Afghanistan and Iraq, each one a volunteer. There can be no clearer testament to our nation's strength and resolve than those young men and women who freely raise their hands in a bold pledge of sacrifice and selfless service, year in and year out, knowing full well that they may soon be sent into harm's way. Given that a good number of these patriots were likely in elementary school at the time of the attacks, their service is even more remarkable.

On that sunny morning in 2001, they bore witness to the great cruelty of which pure evil is capable and, as a result, most likely lost a piece of their childhood innocence forever.

Today, thousands of those very children, whose thoughts in the early hours of September 11th were probably of neater handwriting and demystifying multiplication, now wear the uniform of the American Soldier. All of the nearly 1.1 million Soldiers of our U.S. Army -- active duty, Guard and Reserve -- have borne the burden of taking the fight to America's enemies, thereby better ensuring the safety and security of this nation.

Over the past decade, the missions facing our Soldiers have been many and complex, and this past year was no exception. From the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan to earthquake- and tsunami-ravaged Japan and the banks of the flood-gorged Mississippi River, the U.S. Army has had yet another challenging, remarkable year. We celebrated, however briefly, the demise of Osama bin Laden. President Obama's bold leadership helped bring an end to a decade of frustration as the world's most hunted man was at long last brought to justice.

As the President noted, "The death of bin Laden marks the most significant achievement to date in our nation's effort to defeat al Qaeda. Yet his death does not mark the end of our effort. There's no doubt that al Qaeda will continue to pursue attacks against us. We must -- and we will -- remain vigilant at home and abroad."

That struggle, and the Army's prominent role in it, continues.

Since we last gathered for the AUSA Annual Meeting, we acknowledged profound gallantry and valor with the award of the Medal of Honor to two of our Soldiers.

Staff Sgt. Sal Giunta, Company B, 2nd Battalion (Airborne), 503rd Infantry Regiment, became the first living recipient of the Medal of Honor since the Vietnam War for his actions during a firefight in Afghanistan's Korengal Valley. A few months later, SFC Leroy Arthur Petry of the 75th Ranger Regiment became the second living honoree of these conflicts, recognized for saving the lives of at least two fellow Rangers. He threw away a live grenade that had been hurled at his comrades, costing him his right hand.

These two Soldiers are the embodiment of the Warrior Ethos -- never accept defeat, never quit, never leave a fallen comrade. Through their actions, they held true the Army values of loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity and personal courage. Their courage, leadership and humility clearly demonstrate why the warriors of today are becoming known as our "Next Greatest Generation."

These Soldiers inspire our nation. You can see it at airports and homecomings: Every day Americans across the cultural and political spectrum pause, clap and say thanks to these brave men and women for their service. Perhaps in those displays of gratitude, citizens recognize the depth of that sacrifice among the men and women who represent less than half of one percent of the nation's population.

As Secretary of the Army, I am humbled by the commitment our men and women in uniform make on behalf of this great nation. I know, too, the responsibility we have to them as well as the 400,000 civilian and contract employees who stand with them, shoulder-to-shoulder, to ensure they have the resources and support necessary to complete their numerous missions. In the days and weeks ahead, we will have to work even harder to remain responsive to our Soldiers, their families and our civilians.

In recent years, it seemed at times that the Department of Defense and the U.S. Army were afforded nearly unlimited resources. After a decade of conflict amid a shaky global economy, however, there is little question that both the Army and the Department of Defense will be under increasing and inescapable pressure to gain efficiencies and reduce costs.

Go online, turn on the TV or read any newspaper, and it's clear that the President and Congressional leaders are diligently attempting to find ways to cut costs, generate
revenue and reduce the deficit. Inevitably, some of that challenge will rest at our doorstep; indeed, it already has.

As former Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates warned before he departed office, "The gusher has been turned off, and will stay off for a good period of time."

Despite declining defense budgets, we still hold a solemn obligation to preserve the President's strategic options by maintaining sufficiently modernized land forces capable of rapidly deploying decisive combat power. No major conflict has ever been won without "boots on the ground," and, accordingly, our national security interests demand that while we reshape the Army, we maintain and strengthen the greatest land force the world has ever known.

As Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta observed when he was sworn in, "We do not have to make a choice between fiscal discipline and national security. By setting priorities based on sound strategy, based on good policy, we can focus on a strong and innovative defense policy that confronts the future and deals with the threats that we will face in the future, and that focuses those resources that we need at those threats of today and tomorrow."

It's a sad reality that every time we've predicted the nature of future conflicts, we have gotten it wrong. Whether post-Korea or Vietnam, the end of the Cold War and beyond, budget and force structure decisions were repeatedly made in a fashion that over time depleted our forces and strained the quality of life for our Soldiers and their families.

Unlike in the past, however, we have seen this downturn in our fiscal fortunes coming for some time. As such, under the leadership of former Secretary Gates, and now Secretary Panetta, we have been analyzing the best way to meet these challenges, and are thus better prepared to deal with the new fiscal realities in a way that makes sense.

Despite the unpredictability of our future threats, the Army's essential challenges, priorities and opportunities are inextricably linked to sustaining our decisive land power while simultaneously building the Army of 2020.

One area I believe holds great promise for reform and savings, as outlined last year at the AUSA Annual Meeting, is the transformation of our institutional Army -- the generating force.

Over the course of the past several months, I've issued eight directives aimed at realigning the way we are structured -- not primarily to cut costs but, more important, to
fundamentally change and reshape the way in which we do business.

For example, among the efforts under way in this process is rooting out overlap and redundancies in research and development, a project led by Army Materiel Command and the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics and Technology. We are also reviewing so-called temporary organizations and task forces to determine if they are still needed or relevant to the challenges we currently face. Also, I've directed efforts to consolidate and streamline the requirements process, reform installations management and optimize Army services acquisitions.

Perhaps most important, we are developing sweeping changes in our processes of human capital management. A survey we conducted earlier this year found that 65 percent of active duty general officers rated "personnel management" as one of the worst performing functions in the Army. As one general noted, "Human Capital [management] is the most important, yet the least agile system."

As I've stated in the past, just as you can't have an Air Force without planes or a Navy without ships, you can't have an Army without people. People are what we're about. To hear that we are not developing or managing our most precious resource in an effective fashion is not just tough to take; it is unacceptable. This challenge isn't just about attracting, screening and selecting the best available candidates to be Army professionals. It's also about how we can further develop people in those careers once they are with us. In Iraq and Afghanistan, we've given young leaders unprecedented flexibility and authority, and they have responded brilliantly.

Now, the question for the Army and even our nation is: How do we keep them engaged and challenged here at home?

Identifying ways by which we can effectively manage human capital; better build on the investment we have made in our Soldiers; and ensure that the opportunities for creativity, leadership and advancement present on the battlefield exist throughout the Army, will prepare us for tomorrow and make us more confident that the Army as a whole is truly poised for the complex and unpredictable missions that unquestionably lie ahead.

Indeed, I believe our greatest hedge against an uncertain future is adaptive, innovative, thinking leaders--officers and NCOs who are confident and spontaneously creative in an environment of uncertainty.

In the days ahead, as we work to determine what the Army should look like in a post-Iraq and Afghanistan world, it is critical that we have sufficient time to analyze and shape the right force structure and capabilities mix--taking care to balance projected end strength against increased dwell times.

Similarly, we must continue our modernization and reset strategy. Combat-damaged systems take time and funding to repair, and prudent, disciplined modernization is required to ensure a decisive, strategic advantage over our enemies.

The ground combat vehicle will be essential to our modernization efforts. The Army requires a next-generation vehicle platform that provides greater Soldier safety and flexibility, allowing a full infantry squad to reach the battlefield under armor. In addition, in support of the future Army, we must also develop a capability that gives Soldiers real-time knowledge of terrain, enemy and friendly assets through a robust mobile wireless network.

As we proceed with these critical initiatives, however, the Army can no longer afford to invest in programs and equipment that simply don't work. We've already taken steps toward improvement through a series of capability portfolio reviews. We've revalidated, modified or, in some cases, terminated programs based on need and affordability. We've also begun to fix an inefficient procurement system that too often wasted precious resources and failed to provide needed systems in a timely manner. For example, I recently commissioned a review of the Army's entire acquisition system, and we are currently implementing the majority of the panel's insightful 76 recommendations as part of our broader effort to reform the institutional Army.

Finally and most important, we must fulfill our moral obligation to the welfare and care of our Soldiers, their families and civilians. The impact of 10 years of war, inadequate dwell time at home, and stress on families and communities has significant implications for the Army and our nation, now and into the future. Regardless of our budget fortunes, we must effectively care for those who serve this nation so well.

In that regard, we have implemented an unprecedented number of personnel-focused programs including comprehensive soldier fitness, Wounded Warrior outreach, and traumatic brain injury and suicide research. We are also limiting combat deployments to nine months, which we believe will alleviate significant pressure felt by Soldiers and their families after a decade of combat.

This has been a historic, monumental year for the U.S. Army. We have overcome challenges, won important victories, faced tremendous uncertainty and suffered heartfelt losses. Through it all, the Army family has endured.

Ashley Petry, the wife of Medal of Honor recipient Sgt. 1st Class Leroy Petry, said that the sense of family is the reason they both decided to remain in the Army: "We have a lot in common, a lot to share. We are there for each other, for comfort, for strength."

It is that comfort, that strength that the United States Army owes the men and women who wear its uniform, our Next Greatest Generation.

Page last updated Mon November 7th, 2011 at 12:53