LANDSTUHL REGIONAL MEDICAL CENTER, Germany -- It was a trip to look, listen and give thanks that led Under Secretary of the Army Joseph W. Westphal to Afghanistan and Germany over the Thanksgiving holidays.

Joined by Army Vice Chief of Staff General Lloyd J. Austin III, Westphal shared a holiday meal in Afghanistan with Soldiers facing what he said is the critical task of training Afghanistan forces in preparation for the 2014 withdrawal of NATO forces. The transition, he said, is going well.

"I think morale is high because they are seeing huge results as they turn over the mission to an Afghan Army that is large and well equipped," said Westphal on Nov. 23 during an AFN interview at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center at the conclusion of his trip. Their work also includes working alongside an Afghan police force that Westphal said is probably the strongest link in fighting the Taliban. "As we leave, we are leaving it to an Afghan Army that is strong and solid."

On a similar note, Westphal addressed the transformation of U.S. Army in Europe as part of the overall reduction of military forces and withdrawal of Soldiers in Europe. Although the Army presence in Europe is growing smaller, Westphal said Europe remains an important and critical ally and that the U.S. is unquestionably linked to its NATO partners. Westphal said he does not foresee further reduction in forces for the Army unless necessitated by significant future budget cuts. The reducing of forces in Europe comes as the Army plans to increase its role in the Pacific, a region Westphal said the Army is already well-situated with Soldiers in Hawaii, Korea and Japan. U.S. Pacific Command is not new to the Army, but its mission will include strategic changes among U.S. forces and allies.

One thing that never changes regardless where his travels take him, said Westphal, is the Army commitment in taking care of its Wounded Warriors. When asked about the prioritization of medical care for Wounded Warriors as the Army faces budget constraints and possible sequestration, Westphal said that commitment "is a priority - not a negotiated priority … A wound to a Soldier is a wound to the Army. A wound to the Army is a wound to the nation. We'll never compromise our care for our Wounded Warriors."

Westphal said he always makes a stop at LRMC when in Europe because "it's so important to connect with Wounded Warriors no matter where you are in the world." Westphal praised the continuum of military medical care from combat zones, to LRMC, to long-term definitive care at stateside hospitals, such as Walter Reed. "It's miraculous for us to see how effective this process is. Soldiers deserve such care because of what they are doing for Americans now, and have been doing for more than 237 years."

Page last updated Mon November 26th, 2012 at 00:00