Looking back and looking ahead
October 11, 2012
As the most recent milestone passes in America's longest war, our Nation and Army begin to close yet another year of challenge and triumph. And as Army leaders, Soldiers, civilians and family members gather at the 2012 edition of AUSA's annual meeting, we have much to share, teach and learn.
Even as we begin to prepare and set conditions for the future - under the aegis of a smaller budgets and a new defense strategy - we are focused, first and foremost, on providing the support and resources necessary to successfully complete the mission in Afghanistan. Just as combat operations in Iraq were brought to conclusion on our terms, the planned drawdown in Afghanistan will also leave that nation better than we found it, with a duly constituted government and trained security forces postured to deny safe haven for those who might plan future attacks against the United States.
With nearly 60,000 Soldiers currently deployed to Afghanistan, our sacred duty is to ensure that they have the training, equipment and support needed to get the job done.
We also recognize that safeguarding our collective security and individual liberties means being ever vigilant and constantly prepared. From events surrounding the so-called Arab spring to civil unrest in Syria, from a continuing global fiscal crisis to terror attacks against Americans in Libya, peace and stability throughout the world is under constant challenge.
At this moment, to protect America's interests, and build strong partnerships with America's allies, more than 177,000 Soldiers serve in over 170 countries. Their vigilance - and the pages of history -- serve as a great reminder of the vital role the United States Army has long played, and will continue to play, in defending our nation, and protecting peace, freedom and security across the globe.
This will become increasingly important as we transition to a new national defense strategy that places greater focus on the Asian Pacific region. Our new posture is a logical one, and our Army's role vital. General Douglass MacArthur once remarked that the Pacific provides the hope of "a peaceful lake," vital to national interests. "Our line of defense is a natural one," he said, "and can be maintained with a minimum of military effort and expense."
Of course, that "peaceful lake" contains some of the largest land masses on earth, which means that a capable and credible Army is a critical component of the joint force. America's Army is also needed to build successful alliances and forge strong partnerships. The nations in that part of the world already recognize the significance of land power, where 22 of 27 defense chiefs come from their respective Armies.
There are those who believe that a strong, standing Army may no longer be necessary in the age of high-tech weaponry, and that air and sea defenses alone can protect America's interests. To those critics, we're reminded of the worlds of Winston Churchill, who cautioned that no matter how enmeshed we become "in the elaboration of (our) own thoughts, it is sometimes necessary to take the enemy into account." The simple fact is that we cannot clear enemy strongholds, hold territory, or rebuild defenses without boots on the ground. The only way to successfully defend freedom, deter conflict and project power is with agile, lethal land forces.
Some of what the future holds, we can never predict. One thing, however, is certain and that's that our Army must come to terms with a smaller force -- with a scheduled reduction in end strength from a high of 570,000 to a force of 490,000. With Soldiers coming out of one conflict, and scheduled to come home from another, that is understandable. Further, the lessons of those conflicts, new equipment and better training means that those forces will be better prepared and more capable than at any time in our nation's history.
It will also mean fully operationalized, ready and trained reserve forces. Over the course of the past 11 years, the definition of an operationalized reserve was an easy one. It meant preparing for the next deployment. As we look to the future, incorporating our reserve forces as part of the total force will mean both predictability for those who serve, and a seamless transition when called to action.
Equally important, we know a robust and strong Army requires a good quality of life both for the men and women who serve and their families. Our first commander in chief, General George Washington, correctly observed that "the willingness with which our young people are likely to serve in any war, no matter how justified, shall be directly proportional to how they perceive the Veterans of earlier wars were treated and appreciated by their nation." That extends, too, to how they are treated while in uniform.
We have made remarkable progress in the care and treatment of our wounded warriors. But that is a mission that will never end, and not matter what we do to treat their wounds, we will always strive to do better -- whether they are wounds we can see, or those we can't.
As has been true throughout the Army's 237-year history, this has been a remarkable year. Our Soldiers - active duty, guard and reserve - civilians and family members have shown, once again, the courage, resilience and determination that makes our Army, America's Army, the strength of the Nation.