FORT STEWART-HUNTER ARMY AIRFIELD, Ga. (Sept. 9, 2013) -- The Army's second-highest-ranked civilian recently visited Fort Stewart-Hunter Army Airfield and Savannah to share his thanks with Soldiers, families, and Army Civilians, and to talk about the vital role the area's port plays in national defense and the economy.

During his three-day visit, Sept. 4-6, Under Secretary of the Army Dr. Joseph W. Westphal toured the Savannah port, had lunch with Army civilians, laid coins at Warriors Walk, and visited with Soldiers stationed at Stewart-Hunter.

The visit was an opportunity to see how Soldiers and civilians are doing, how the Soldiers are training, and how the 3rd Infantry Division and installation are facing Army issues, the Under Secretary said. The most memorable stop during his visit, however, was Warriors Walk.

"I had never seen our fallen warriors recognized in that fashion in the Army or in the world," Westphal said. "I had not expected to be as emotionally taken by what I saw. It was very touching. I think it is incredibly appropriate, very beautiful, very moving."

Warriors Walk honors the Fallen Soldiers of the 3rd Infantry Division and attached units who served in Operation Iraqi Freedom, Operation New Dawn, and Operation Enduring Freedom. Soldiers are memorialized with an Eastern Redbud tree planted in their honor. More than 460 trees are planted at the living memorial. For Westphal, the trees reminded him how lucky he is to be an American.

"I think that every American who believes in what our men and women do for this country should take that walk once in their life," he said.

Before visiting Warriors Walk, Westphal lunched with Army civilians to talk about the recent effects of furloughs on employment, quality of life, and families, and their role in the Army.

"They have been there for the last 10 to 12 years, supporting our warfighters, working hard to ensure their success on the battlefield and their success in defending our country," Westphal said. "They are a part of our victory, they are a part of our success, and we should not pay them back by furloughing them."

The biggest challenge is a lack of centralized management for Army civilians, Westphal said.

"In the Army, we manage the Soldier centrally," he said. "We can make decisions and we can tell our Soldiers what is going to happen because the management is done centrally."

For Army civilians, having centralized management would offer a means of providing input and learning how changes will impact them, Westphal said.

"It is something we should really look at," he said.

The lack of a clear way ahead is another challenge faced by the Army today. With no budget passed by Congress and continuing resolutions constraining Army programs, there is little to no predictability, Westphal said.

"We have to get to a point where we can be clear with our work force and our Soldiers, here's the way ahead and here's how we're going to plan to meet the challenges of the future," he said.

The way forward is still positive, however, and Westphal is thankful for the work of the Soldiers and Army civilians.

"The Army has a great future," he said. "We're working to make sure we don't have a furlough and don't undermine the stability of our civilian workforce. Stay positive. We believe in you."

Westphal spent the morning of Sept. 5 with Soldiers from the 3/160th Special Operations Air Regiment, and the 1/75th Ranger Regiment, at Hunter Army Airfield before moving on to Fort Stewart, were he strapped on the simulation gear Soldiers in the 1/64th Armor Regiment, 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team, were using at the Close Combat Tactical Trainer facility at Fort Stewart's Evans Army Airfield.

National security and economic growth were also on Westphal's agenda during the visit. On Sept. 4, he visited the Georgia Ports Authority in Savannah. The deepening of the Savannah River was the main topic. Gesturing behind himself during a press conference on the docks, Westphal called the bustle of containers moving off of ships and onto trucks "what it's all about."

"That's the gateway to get (goods) to other markets," he said.

Westphal is proud of the Army's role, via the Corps of Engineers, in deepening the harbor, calling it is a tremendous opportunity for small businesses. The deepening also benefits national security.

"We can get equipment from Fort Stewart and Hunter to here and deploy it very quickly," Westphal said. "If it weren't for the port, we wouldn't get things out in time. It is a vital aspect of our national security."