By Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Ray OdiernoApril 29, 2013
It is an honor to be here to commemorate the 150th Anniversary of the Union League Club alongside two historic Army units - the "Fighting 69th Irish Brigade" and the 369th "Harlem Hellfighters."
Thank you, Jack. I wish my parents could have heard your generous introduction. I'm not sure what would have confused my 1st generation Italian-American parents more - the fact that I'm Chief of Staff of the Army or the fact that I'm sitting down next to a unit descended from the IRA "Gangs of New York".
I'd like to talk with you tonight about our fiscal challenges as an Army and as a nation. We all know leaner times are ahead due to sequestration. I am reminded of a joke Irishman Ronald Reagan told on St. Patrick's Day some 30 years ago, about the Irish potato famine. He said "An Irishman was walking along the road, when another man approached and asked him what he was carrying in his knapsack. "Potatoes" said the first man. "Well, if I can guess how many potatoes you're carrying, can I have one of them?" said the second man. "Sure," replied the first man, "in fact, if you guess correctly, you can have BOTH of them."
As a proud Italian-American from North Jersey, I should probably add that I think the story continues with a nearby Italian man offering the first man protection -- for a fee, of course.
Most of you here tonight know Jack Jacobs well. What you may not know is that he was my international relations professor at the United States Military Academy. As a teacher, an officer with two tours in Vietnam, and a Medal of Honor recipient, Jack had a tremendous impact on me as I thought about my future place in the U.S. Army. Of all my instructors at West Point, he was the funniest, he was the hardest, and he was the shortest -- which might explain why he spent so much time standing on his desk.
To Union League Club President David Mathus, thank you for inviting me to mark this incredible milestone in the history of the club. Let me take a moment to recognize the other distinguished guests with us tonight:
• Congressman Charles Rangel [NY 13th District, Korean war veteran]
• Major General (Retired) Nathaniel James [Former Adjutant General NY National Guard, former Bn Cmdr of 369th Transportation Bn]
• Brigadier General Michael Swezey [CG 53rd Troop Command & Asst Adjutant General (Army), NY National Guard]
• Brigadier General (Retired) Robert Norman [USAF, deputy defense adviser for the U.S. Mission to NATO, Brussels, Belgium]
• Command Sergeant Major Frank Wicks [New York National Guard]
• Command Sergeant Major David Piwowarski [pie-wo-WAR-ski, NY 42nd Infantry Division]
Tonight, I'd like to talk with you about our Army, our current strategic challenges and opportunities, and where we are headed in the future. But first I'd like to highlight the special history of this club and the accomplishments of the two great units joining us tonight.
The Union League Club of New York includes an amazing legacy of American leaders from U.S. Presidents and congressmen, executives and inventors, artists, social reformers, and philanthropists. Its members include Presidents Ulysses S. Grant and Theodore Roosevelt, J.P. Morgan and John D. Rockefeller, Peter Cooper -- inventor of the steam locomotive, Major General Oliver Howard -- the founder of Howard University, the artist Frederic Remington and landscape architect Frederick Law Olmstead.
I find common ground with one of the Union League Club's most distinguished members, Secretary of War, Elihu [EL- uh - hyoo] Root.
From 1899-1904, Secretary Root initiated an extensive reorganization of the Army to meet the challenges of a new world order after the Spanish American War. Despite the absence of any distinct threats on the horizon, Secretary Root realized that as an emerging world power, the United States faced new global responsibilities with an outdated frontier Army.
In the decade prior to the First World War, Secretary Root implemented some of the most important military reforms of the 20th century. He created the position of Chief of Staff of the Army and the modern General Staff to improve strategic decision-making, long range planning, and crisis management. He invested in Soldier training and professional officer education, establishing the Army War College in 1903. He undertook extensive efforts to reorganize, train and equip our National Guard units and laid the groundwork for the creation of the U.S. Army Reserve in 1908. His leadership ensured the Army's preparedness for operations overseas and created the foundations of today's modern Army.
We are at another crossroads in our nation's history -- one in which we do not see worldwide stability on the horizon. Instead, we face an uncertain and unstable security environment exacerbated by our own fiscal and economic instability.
As I stand here tonight, the U.S. Army has nearly 80,000 Soldiers deployed overseas in 150 countries, including some 60,000 in Afghanistan, and thousands of others in Kuwait and Qatar, the Horn of Africa, Kosovo, and the Sinai. An additional 91,000 Soldiers are forward stationed overseas in Korea and Japan, Europe and the Middle East. Our Army has been in a state of continuous war for nearly twelve years. The Soldiers with us here tonight from the 69th and 369th can personally attest to that.
The Soldiers of the famous "Fighting 69th Irish Brigade" exemplify the depth of tradition and sacrifice resident within the U.S. Army, with seven Medal of Honor recipients and a battle history that spans from the American Revolution and the Civil War, to Baghdad and the foothills of the Hindu Kush. Although once an Irish-American bastion, its ranks now reflect the diversity of New York City and America today. In the years since 9/11 when its Citizen-Soldiers were the first military unit to respond to the World Trade Center attacks, its Soldiers have earned over 100 purple hearts and numerous awards for valor.
This year also marks the 100th anniversary of the renowned 369th "Harlem Hellfighters".
In World War I, the all-volunteer unit of predominantly African-American Soldiers faced incredible racial injustice at home. Although their participation the Great War did not translate into full citizenship and equal rights at home, their extraordinary valor inspired the Nation and made household names of its heroes. What an incredible group of men -- to sacrifice so much for a country that still did not recognize them as full citizens! What an amazing example they set for all future generations.
The service and sacrifices made by the Soldiers of this great unit continue today as 369th Sustainment Brigade. Over the last twelve years, it has sent thousands of Soldiers on multiple deployments to Afghanistan, Qatar and Kuwait as well as many rotational exercises worldwide. The legacy of the 369th and its efforts in overcoming racial divides endures today. In July, the U.S. Army for the first time will have three African-American four star generals within its ranks. We are motivated by the example of the 369th and the great progress we have made, yet we are mindful that there is still much work to do to ensure diversity across all ranks and branches in our Army.
These units embody the competence, character, and commitment of U.S. Army Soldiers everywhere who have joined the Profession of Arms and who have raised their right hand to defend the Constitution of the United States. Our profession must be built on the bedrock of trust. The inherent trust that exists among Soldiers and between Soldiers and their leaders is essential in the chaos of warfare. We are entrusted with ensuring the health and welfare of America's sons and daughters. We are granted the privilege of developing them into Soldiers and becoming a part of something greater than themselves by representing the moral and ethical values of our country. The Constitution entrusts us with the responsibility to ethically employ lethal force -- a responsibility that should never be taken lightly. Today, the Army enjoys an unprecedented level confidence and standing with the American people, but we must never take that trust for granted.
With current and potential threats on the horizon, our Army must remain a trained and ready force that is capable of responding to the global responsibilities of our Nation. In preparing our forces for the future, we are starting from a position of strength. Since 9/11, we have grown a generation of experienced, combat-tested leaders and Soldiers. More than 1.5 million Soldiers have deployed and more than half a million have deployed 2, 3, 4 or more times. Over 4,800 have made the ultimate sacrifice to defend this great nation -- including 24 Soldiers lost from the "Fighting 69th" and 369th Sustainment Brigade.
As great as our current Army is today, we must ensure that we are prepared for the future security challenges our Nation will face. The environment we are operating in right now is the most complex and difficult I have seen in my nearly 37 years of service. Perhaps most significantly, our country's inability to put its fiscal house in order is compromising the future readiness of our military, the Army, and will ultimately impact our ability to provide for the security of this nation.
The Department of Defense and the Army play a critical role in reducing government spending and strengthening our nation's economy. Our economy is the foundation of our nation's strength. We have and we will continue to do our part to find efficiencies and reduce costs in how we do business. However, we must return to a predictable budgetary process so that we can plan ahead and efficiently and effectively manage resources we are given.
This year, the lack of a timely budget, rising costs in Afghanistan and sequestration have resulted in a $13 billion dollar shortfall for the Army. In order to pay for operations in Afghanistan, we have been forced to halt training for 80% of our forces, terminate thousands of employees, and delay all of our major modernization programs. We are already reducing the force by 89,000 Soldiers over the next four years and if sequestration continues, we could lose a minimum of 100,000 or more Soldiers -- a total of 200,000 Soldiers from across the Total Army over the next ten years.
And as we look toward 2014, we do not see any fiscal resolution on the horizon. Right now, there are four budget proposals for us to consider -- the President's budget released this month, the budget proposed by the House, a budget proposed by the Senate and the law of sequestration signed on March 1st.
It is imperative that we regain predictability in our budget process and avert further sequestration. If we do not, the Army and the military will become hollow -- they will be overmanned and unprepared for future contingencies.
As a result of these fiscal challenges, some tough choices have to be made. My foremost priority is to ensure that our forces deployed, next to deploy, and forward stationed in Korea have the resources they need to execute their missions today.
We will strike a balance between the Army's endstrength, our Soldiers' preparedness for war, our modernization programs, and personnel compensation -- while we remain committed worldwide. As we drawdown the force, we will maintain a balanced mix of forces and capabilities across the Active Army, the Army National Guard, and the U.S. Army Reserve.
As history has shown, we cannot predict the future. But strategic uncertainty is no excuse for inaction. Instead we must assess risk and take action to mitigate those risks. We can best do this by having a flexible and adaptable force capable of meeting multiple security challenges.
Building upon our expertise in counterinsurgency and stability operations, the Army will train on a broader range of missions in a variety of environments. We are adapting our doctrine and training to ensure our forces can simultaneously conduct combined arms maneuver, counterinsurgency, and stability operations.
We will posture the Army to be globally responsive and regionally engaged. We will align Army forces with our regional commanders to help them in their efforts to prevent conflict and shape the environment consistent with U.S. interests and to counter emerging and enduring threats. The Army will complement its warfighting skills with language, regional expertise, and cultural training. We will reinvest in our expeditionary capabilities to deploy forces quickly and efficiently anywhere in the world. In this uncertain world, we need an Army that conducts many missions, at many speeds, at many sizes, and under many conditions.
Finally, we must invest in our leaders as leadership development is the surest way to be prepared for any future contingency. As the Army gets smaller, it will be critical that we recruit and retain the best. We must do more to develop, mentor, and employ our talent to the greatest extent possible.
The most important ingredient to our success today and in the future is the American Soldier. Since 2001, these young men and women have earned over 15,000 medals of valor, to include 7 Medals of Honor, 27 Distinguished Service Crosses, and 692 Silver Stars, and these numbers continue to grow. The Soldiers who have earned these medals for bravery and selfless service have told me, with striking humility that "They were just doing their job. They did what any Soldier would have done." They have demonstrated time and time again the moral and the physical courage that epitomizes the ethos of the American Soldier.
The willingness of our country to give the Army its sons and daughters is determined by how well we take care of our own. Twelve years of war has taught us the importance of building and sustaining resiliency in our Soldiers, civilians and Families and providing quality care for our Wounded Warriors. Just this year we rolled out the Army Ready and Resilient Campaign which we will soon expand into the National Guard and the Army Reserves.
This holistic effort seeks to build and sustain the emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual health of all in our Army community.
We must keep faith with our Veterans, both those who continue to wear the uniform and those who depart the Army. Our Soldier For Life campaign will ensure that our Soldiers transition successfully into civilian life, and enrich American society with their Army experience. We need your help to provide opportunities to Veterans and ensure they transition successfully into civilian life and enrich American society with their military experience.
We also can never forget the Families, particularly the Families of the fallen. We cannot do what we do without the steadfast support of our Families and the American people. No Soldier stands alone. Army Families and the communities that support them have shown us the meaning of resilience, character, and untiring commitment. Our Soldiers proudly, and voluntarily, go into harm's way in their defense. The support of a grateful Nation is what drives them. That welcome home, shaking of their hands, and thanking them for their service, reinforces that their sacrifices are not taken for granted.
General Omar Bradley said that "Wars are won by the great strength of a nation - the Soldier and the Civilian working together." It is at events such as these that we celebrate the history and the diversity of our great nation. We celebrate the traditions that make our military great. And together, we celebrate the civil-military partnerships that provide service to our communities and to the nation.
Thank you for all that you do in this noble endeavor and for allowing me to share this amazing night and historic celebration.
The strength of our Nation is our Army
The strength of our Army is our Soldiers
The strength of our Soldiers is our Families.
This is what makes us Army Strong!