By Grant Sattler, USAG Vicenza PAOMay 1, 2013
VICENZA, Italy (May 1, 2013) -- Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno visited the Vicenza Military Community, from April 30 to May 1, where he got a firsthand look at the U.S. Army in northern Italy.
The 38th Army Chief of Staff toured U.S. Army Africa operational facilities, met informally with Soldiers of the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team "Sky Soldiers," and other units, held a Town Hall meeting open to Soldiers, Army civilians, local national employees, contractors and family members, and concluded with a tour of the Army's newest installation, Caserma Del Din, set to open this summer as two battalions move south from Bamberg, Germany.
Hundreds of Sky Soldiers from the 173rd ABCT, USARAF and other Vicenza-based units packed the gymnasium on Caserma Ederle, for the Town Hall.
"It's a great honor for Linda and I to have the chance to come down here to Vicenza. Actually for me it's always special to come to Italy," Odierno said, speaking of a grandfather who emigrated almost a century ago from a small town near Naples to America. "It's always great for us to come back here where my ancestors came from."
Odierno said he became acquainted with Sky Soldiers during Operation Iraqi Freedom I.
"I commanded the 4th Infantry Division and the 173rd was part of the division that first year in Iraq, so I have a personal relationship with this brigade, a great brigade that has deployed numerous times to both Iraq and Afghanistan and on every occasion has performed superbly."
He commended unit members, just completing their block leave after returning from Afghanistan, for their work assisting in transitioning security to Afghan responsibility.
"For us that's hard to do, but to be successful in Afghanistan it's important to turn the responsibility over," he said, noting that in the six months between his most recent October and February visits to Afghanistan he noticed significant progress.
"You were in a tough area, you did a great job, so thank you and welcome back," Odierno said.
The chief of staff began his talk to the troops by presenting his perspective.
"Today, as I stand here, the U.S. Army has 80,000 Soldiers deployed. We have nearly 60,000 Soldiers deployed in Afghanistan. We have another 10-12,000 deployed to Kuwait. There are Soldiers deployed to Turkey, Jordan, Qatar, many other places in the Middle East," Odierno said.
"We also have 90,000 Soldiers deployed in more than 150 countries, including Italy and Germany, but most recently in the news are the 28,000 we have in South Korea working with the South Korean Army every day making sure we maintain stability on the Korean peninsula."
Bringing the point home, he said, "Our Army plays an important role in our nation's security every single day and you all play a huge part in that. It's important that we never forget that."
He then addressed the $13 billion shortfall in fiscal year 2013 funding due to sequestration and higher than anticipated costs in Afghanistan.
"Top priority is to fund Afghanistan, so money had to come from the Army's budget to meet the shortfall. So we had to do a couple of things that really we didn't want to do [we] had to reduce training, cancelling seven combat center rotations, reduced the dollars available for training for the rest of the year, and are having a conversation about having to furlough civilians -- originally 21 days, currently 14 days," Odierno explained.
"I've just spent the last couple weeks testifying with the Secretary of the Army on our budget for the future, trying to inform Congress about what we need and hopefully get them to fund us at the levels necessary to sustain readiness at the right levels so we can do the missions that they are asking us to do all around the world.
"My assessment of the world today is that it is probably more unstable than it has ever been during my 37 years in the military," he continued.
Citing conflicts in Syria and Afghanistan, tension with Iran, new governments in Tunisia and Egypt, Odierno maintained that the Army's priority is to ensure we never send a Soldier on a mission without being properly trained, equipped and led.
"What does the future of our Army look like?" Odierno asked. "We're in the process of reducing the size of the active Army from 570,000 to 490,000 people. In two years we've gotten to about 530,000, so we're about half way there. We've done that mostly through natural attrition and I think it's gone pretty well so far.
"In June the Secretary of the Army and I will announce the 14/15/16/17 force structure cuts, which will come mainly out of the continental United States because we've already taken force structure out of Europe -- two brigades out of Germany and V Corps Headquarters that will deactivate when they come back."
The CSA said he is comfortable with 490,000 as a level for readiness capability, but is not certain that future congressional decisions will keep the active Army at that strength.
"We want an Army that is globally responsive and regionally engaged," Odierno said. "We need an Army that can fight and win our nation's wars, but that's no longer enough."
He said in order for the Army to be globally responsive, it must develop forces that are scalable and can be tailored to deploy rapidly to operate in many environments to respond to the Nation's national security needs.
"Whether it be Company Task Forces, Battalion Task Forces, a combination of Combat and Combat Support Task Forces, or Humanitarian Assistance/Disaster Relief capabilities, so we are able to operate decisively across a broad spectrum of responses," Odierno said.
He said the Army must go back to an expeditionary mindset and work with sister services, the Air Force and the Navy, to ensure strategic mobility to move around the world.
Odierno said the future Army will be regionally engaged.
"Forces that are aligned to regions will allow us to do everything, from operational deployments, building partner capacity, training coordination to doing joint exercises, in order for us to build their capabilities and to shape that area of operations so we can reduce the instability that we see around the world, in support of the combatant commanders," he said.
"U.S. Army Africa is leading the way in developing this new strategy. They are using regionally aligned forces in order to engage, train and provide forces for security on the African continent."
He said the continent is growing in importance.
"Unfortunately we're starting to see some terrorist organizations starting to take root there, so the work U.S. Army Africa is doing to shape the operational environment and prevent terrorists from taking hold is incredibly important to our National security," Odierno said.
"I had the chance to spend the afternoon with (USARAF Commanding General) Maj. Gen. Patrick Donahue and staff yesterday. I enjoyed very much their vision and where they are headed."
Odierno spoke about Army priorities for leader development in the future.
"One advantage that we have over every other nation in the world is our ability to develop leaders, noncommissioned officers and officers. But we're going to adjust how we do that, because the world is changing. The environments we operate in are more complex. Our technologies are changing," he said.
The CSA spoke of pending release of a new leader development strategy that will adjust NCO and officer education, talent management and assignments to broaden abilities of NCOs, officers and Department of the Army civilians.
Odierno spoke about the importance of professionalism in the Army.
"The one thing I've learned over the last 12 years of combat operations is that the American population believes in our military," he said. "They believe that we have the moral and ethical values that are necessary for us to project to other nations. As we conduct our military operations, they believe that we are given a responsibility to not only protect our nation, but also to develop others to understand the importance of moral and ethical values."
Odierno said Army leaders must be competent in their military operational specialty, but also people of high character, who understand the importance of values and understand how to make moral judgments in very difficult situations. He said leaders must also be committed to the unit, fellow Soldiers and the Army as a whole.
"We want an Army that is competent, of high character and committed," he said.
Odierno said priorities are to be "globally responsive, regionally engaged, develop the best leaders in the world and continue to have a professional Army that is respected not only by the American people, but respected by the world, and we're going to do this at a time when we're reducing the size of the Army. But one thing I know is that we're beginning today at a position of strength because we have the most capable leaders with combat experience that we've ever had since I've been in the Army."
Making sure the Army maintains the right programs for families and Soldiers remains a key priority, Odierno said, so they continue to serve and make the sacrifices asked of them. He laid out the "Soldier for Life" initiative that will support Soldiers as they transition out of the Army and carry the Army Values with them into broader American society.
"I also want to thank the community here for the great support they give the families. I really appreciate everything that our civilians do every day to support our great Army here in Vicenza," he said.
The CSA took questions from the audience that ranged from his view of future Army budgets, working with the Air Force to ensure paratroopers can get enough jumps to remain qualified, to whether he would consider a future bid for president, an consideration which he declined.
The chief presented four awards at the conclusion of the Town Hall. Three Sky Soldiers awarded were: Bronze Star with V Device to Staff Sgt. Scott Gerwitz; the Purple Heart to Staff Sgt. Jeffrey Richey; and the Army Commendation Medal with V Device to Sgt. 1st Class Jesse Miller.
Retiring Department of the Army civilian Kambiz Razzaghi received the Meritorious Civilian Service Award for his service as Supervisory General Engineer and Director of Public Works, USAG Vicenza.
Following the Town Hall, Odierno's wife Linda visited Department of Defense Dependents Schools and Child, Youth & School Services facilities on Villaggio in Vicenza. While engaging with students, Linda Odierno learned what they like most and least about their educational experience.
"Our teachers are subject matter experts," said one. Others cited the great school band program. One expressed concern about lunch nutrition.
Odierno continued his visit with a roundtable discussion with unit-level leaders and a tour with U.S. Army Europe Commanding General Lt. Gen. Donald M. Campbell to see new facilities at Caserma Del Din.
Visiting the fitness center, Odierno said, "There's no reason Sky Soldiers won't be fit."