By David VergunMay 30, 2013
WASHINGTON (Army News Service, May 30, 2013) -- "This is the most uncertain time in my 37 years of service," said Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Ray Odierno, referring to an increasingly complex global environment.
During a think tank discussion at The Atlantic Council, May 29, Odierno described that environment and what the Army needs to do to in order to remain relevant and ready.
The Army no longer has the luxury of long preparation times as events around the world unfold "at the speed of Twitter," Odierno said, illustrating the way information and ideas flow and impact events.
The tools of social media have enabled "non-state actors" to shape attitudes and collective actions of people across borders. Uprisings can bubble to the surface with little warning, he said.
A very recent example he cited is the Islamic militant group Hezbollah, which has voiced its support for the Syrian government. Its actions and ideology hold sway with many in the region.
The Internet has enabled Hezbollah, a non-state actor, to have a public voice, influencing events on the ground in Syria, Lebanon and elsewhere in a way that was not possible 20 years ago, he explained.
Since Hezbollah and similar groups around the world are not nation states they are not held accountable to international laws in the traditional sense because such laws don't yet exist to deal with this new type of threat, he said.
In the future, "we could have more groups like this coming forward, and that's a problem," he said.
Other potential problem areas include Bahrain and Iraq, where sectarian tensions remain, he said, as well as Iran, Pakistan and North Korea, where an explosive mix of instability and nuclear weapons threaten regional security and destabilize world peace.
If those issues are not enough to cause concern, Odierno said, there are unresolved budget issues at home that bode ill for Army modernization, training and manpower. Included among those issues are shortfalls in operations and maintenance accounts, shortfalls in overseas contingency operations funding, and the cumulative effects of continuing resolutions and sequestration.
Odierno outlined the Army's plan for dealing with some of those problems.
After a dozen years of war, "we don't want to go back to our corners," Odierno said, meaning the U.S. doesn't want to squander its security gains in Iraq and Afghanistan.
To protect its investments there and elsewhere requires building and strengthening partnerships and continuing personal relationships and dialog, he said.
He defined the word "partnerships" in a broad sense, including not just military-to-military ties, which he said are vital, but multia-gency and multi-government relationships within the U.S. and with other countries.
Within the U.S., the joint capabilities of the other services are already being leveraged to the nation's advantage, he said.
The focus should now be on integrating the capabilities within agencies such as the Department of State, Department of the Treasury and the Department of Homeland Security in ways that improve national security outcomes.
Some of this will require legislation and public dialog, he explained. And within the Army, "officers and senior leaders need to begin thinking in those terms."
Internationally, a lot can be done, Odierno said.
Allies in Europe and Asia are feeling the impact of reduced budgets and manpower, he said. More often than not, this will require a multinational response to global crisis he said, adding that he'd like to see an improvement in relations with China.
The U.S. should not simply "put half a million people on the ground" every time a crisis erupts, he said.
Odierno said he's encouraged by the commitment the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, or NATO, has shown in using its forces outside the treaty area.
NATO and U.S. forces are also cooperating in other ways.
He cited joint, multinational training centers in Germany where the U.S., NATO and other partners come together in high-level exercises intended to familiarize themselves with each other's capabilities and better synchronize tactics and strategies not only for operations but for other things like natural disaster and humanitarian response.
The Army is responding to the threat of the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and is working on ways to reduce the likelihood of them falling into the wrong hands, Odierno said. To that end, the Army is training and equipping conventional and special operations forces to respond with a range of options.
As service chief, Odierno said he tries to balance end strength, modernization, readiness and compensation.
However, the balance he seeks is currently lacking, he said.
Right now, for instance, the Army spends about 45 percent of its budget on personnel costs, that's funding that cannot be used for research and development, training and weapons systems.
The Army realizes that cuts are inevitable, he said, but funding "needs to come down in a measured and deliberate way," he said.
To that end, the Army is working with Congress and the administration to achieve that goal.
SOLDIER AS CENTERPIECE
The centerpiece of the Army is the Soldier. And the success of Soldiers depends on their non-commissioned officers and officers, he said, adding that to ensure continued excellence, he'll announce a new leader development program within about a month.
Besides having good leaders, those Soldiers need the best training and equipment to succeed.
To accomplish that goal, he said, the Army wants a force that has the mobility as well as the protection it needs when put into harm's way.
The Ground Combat Vehicle, a replacement for the Bradley, and the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle, a replacement for the Humvee, will ensure squads move more effectively throughout the battlefield.
That rapid movement in turn necessitates Soldiers having the communications and network capacity needed to ensure they have the right information and intelligence needed to exploit opportunities and take the initiative down to the squad and platoon levels, he said, describing the Army's budget priorities in this new technology.
The Army also needs to better develop and integrate its cyber-warfare and human dimension capabilities, he said. The human dimension includes ways of increasing social and cultural understandings among various people.
COUNTERING THREAT WITHIN
In addition to discussions on meeting the challenges of global threats, Odierno also touched on a different kind of threat to the Army: suicide.
Suicides in the Army are a "perplexing problem" that doesn't seem to go away, Odierno admitted. He gets briefed on every suicide that occurs, "including one today," he said.
"Incredible assets have been thrown at the problem," he said.
Suicide plagues civilian society as well as the Army, but Odierno said researchers have not yet discovered its "rhyme or reason and there's no golden trail we can follow that solves the problem."
If suicide numbers following Vietnam are any indication, he said, then an elevated number of suicides will likely continue for the next 10 or 15 years.
One of the bright spot on the suicide prevention horizon, he said, is the Army's recent investments in the holistic ready and resilient approach to strengthening Soldiers' physical, mental and emotional capabilities so they and their families can deal not only with personal relationships, deployments and financial issues, but "the incredibly complex situations we sometimes put them in."
Other steps the Army is taking in suicide prevention, he said, include training to spot warning signs of suicide, elimination of the stigma of seeking help, increasing the number of behavioral health specialists and ensuring Soldiers have a smoother transition between the Army and Veterans Affairs.