VICENZA, Italy (May 30, 2013) -- Under Secretary of the Army Joseph W. Westphal, Ph.D., and Vice Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. John F. Campbell met with Soldiers and the civilian work force here May 28 to discuss current Army priorities and gain situational awareness of key initiatives and programs. The pair was on the first portion of a visit to Afghanistan to observe the status of retrograde operations.

"General Campbell and I thought it was important to recognize extraordinary efforts of the Soldiers, families and civilian work force here," Westphal said.

The Army senior leaders recognized the paratroopers of the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team for the success of their recent deployment to Afghanistan, and their sustained readiness.

"These paratroopers have had quite a fight in the last several years and have stayed the course for our Army. They are true patriots and we depend on their unique capabilities. The Army thanks them tremendously for their service and support of their families. Their continued contributions to our country are essential," Westphal said.

Westphal and Campbell also met with U.S. Army Africa, known as USARAF, leaders to discuss the importance of regionally aligned forces and the necessity of inter-agency cooperation as they execute key initiatives in the USARAF area of responsibility.

"Africa is an important continent, a tremendous growth area; it's an area of significant natural and human resources," said Westphal. "We must proactively engage in areas around the world where potential adversaries and enemies can grow and inflict damage on our society, and that's exactly why U.S. Army Africa's initiatives are so important and play a very key role in our joint force."

The senior leaders also spent time with USAG Vicenza leaders and staff to gain insight on the health of the force, funding and the effectiveness of a range of programs.

A primary focus of the discussion centered on the need to prioritize garrison programs and resources due to the Army's current budget reductions.

"The Army is committed to ensuring we continue supporting effective programs, but we must eliminate redundancy and prioritize our initiatives," Campbell said as he detailed the Army's current fiscal constraints.

Campbell underscored the vital role of the Army's civilian work force and encouraged them continue the extraordinary support they provide.

"You are valuable members of the U.S. Army team and we appreciate what you do," he said.

The USAG Vicenza team presented an overview of its activities and array of initiatives that address the well-being and resiliency of Soldiers, families and the civilian work force. The team also outlined the steps they are taking to maintain support for the Army community in Vicenza, despite the current fiscal environment.

Additionally, Westphal and Campbell toured the nearly complete Caserma Del Din installation. As they observed the state-of-the-art facilities, the leaders stressed the importance of providing Soldiers with the best resources possible as the Army postures for future requirements.

"After all these years of deployments and combat operations, this remains the best Army in the world, the strongest Army in the world and the most experienced Army in the world. One of the things our service has effectively done over our nearly 238 year history is effectively adapt to change. We'll continue to do that as we transition out of combat operations in Afghanistan and focus on the global regional alignment of our forces.

"Our entire Army family here in Italy is absolutely critical to the Army's ability to posture for future requirements and maintain readiness," said Westphal.

Westphal and Campbell will conclude their three-stop tour with a brief visit to the new United States Army Europe headquarters in Wiesbaden, Germany, before returning to Washington D.C.