By Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Ray OdiernoApril 4, 2014
Speaker: General Ray Odierno, the 38th Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army. He was appointed to that position in September 2011. General Odierno has served in all echelons of the Army. He climbed the ladders (laughter), and he has made it. He is a very serious Officer with valuable service in different phases. He served in Iraq during both operations, Operation Desert Shield and Desert Storm. Also, he has worked in arms control among other jobs. He holds a Bachelor's of Science degree in engineering from West Point and a Master's degree in nuclear effects engineering from North Carolina State University. He is a graduate of the Army War College and holds a Master's degree in national security and strategic studies from the Naval War College. He also holds two honorary degrees, a Doctorate in humane letters from North Carolina State University and also a Doctorate of Law from the Institute of World Politics. During his long period of service, General Odierno has received many awards and decorations both from the U.S. Government and also from foreign governments. He is a distinguished military Officer, not only of the U.S., but also with an international reputation (inaudible). I am sure that we are going to have a very enriching discussion helpful to our students and faculty.
General Odierno: Thank you very much, Professor. I truly appreciate that. I want to thank everyone for being here, especially since school is not in session. So I appreciate you all being here. This is a great opportunity for me to have an opportunity to share ideas and thoughts. I hope you can ask me whatever questions you have on your mind about any subject, and specifically about the international security environment. I have broad experience across many different areas. So I am more than happy to share my views and my perspective, and I would like to hear your perspective, as well.
I think one of the most important things that we do is exchange ideas and exchange thoughts. As I have grown older, I have realized that the diversity of thought and diversity of ideas are actually very, very important. I have found that no matter how much experience you have, it is important to continue to constantly learn. You can never stop learning. The world is changing very quickly around us. It is important for all us to understand that and constantly pay attention and learn what we face. As the head of the Army, I have to do that on a regular basis. I have to continue to learn. I have to understand the international environment. I have to understand what is important for us and how we train our young men and women who protect and secure the United States.
Let me take two minutes to explain to you what my job is. My guess is you really probably do not understand what it is. (Laughter) I really have two hats that I wear. One is as the Chief of Staff of the Army, I am responsible for training, equipping, and educating all of the members of the Army. There are about 1,000,000 people in uniform in the Army. We educate them with a variety of courses that they go through. We have to train them to do their jobs. Then I have to make sure they are equipped to do their jobs. So I am involved in modernization, training, and synchronizing a variety of activities.
I have a second hat dealing with how the United States Government works. I am a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The Joint Chiefs of Staff are the heads of the Army, the Navy, the Air Force, the Marine Corp, and there is a Chairman of the Joint Chiefs. We all provide information directly to the President of the United States and the Secretary of Defense. That is more of a policy responsibility that I have as I provide military advice and military recommendations to the President of the United States. So those are the two hats that I hold. They keep me very, very busy. They also allow me to do things like this, to travel around the world and meet with our partners. It is an especially great day for me when I get a chance to meet with young people from different parts of the world. So it is an honor for me to be here with you, and I want to thank you for taking time out of your schedules to meet with meet.
Speaker: Thank you. Now you have a chance to ask questions of the General. Who goes first?
Participant: Good afternoon, General. I am a student in international studies. It is a great honor to be here. It occurred to me there are Officers here today in the province with the visiting group. There is only one female in the unit that is here. So I am very interested in female leadership in the Army. I wonder what is your opinion about women in leadership in the Army. How are they doing? Will they get 100% chance to inquire and make decisions? Thank you.
General Odierno: That is a great question. We are in the process of really changing the interaction in the Army and how that relates to females. Today about 20% of the Army is made up of females. Only about 14% of our Officers are females. So we are in the process of attempting to increase the number of female Officers that we have. What we have found is that it is about utilizing our talent. We have incredible talent in our females in the United States, as I am sure you do here in China. We want to maximize that talent in the many who are interested in serving. So we are now opening up more positions to females in the Army. In fact, by the end of 2015, I expect that all positions in the Army, regardless of duties will be open to women. That is a big step for us.
The second piece I would tell you is in the Army, Four Stars is the highest rank you can obtain. We just had our first female Four Star General. She just retired actually. She served for three years. She was in the Army for about 36 years. She earned her way. She was not parachuted in, which is really a great term actually. She earned her way through. She had to work through very difficult obstacles in order to get where she was. Today my personal staff consists of Three Star Generals. I have three females on my personal staff who are Three Star Generals. One is the head of intelligence. One is the Surgeon General of the Army. Another is the Judge Advocate General, which is the head lawyer of the Army. They are all females. So we continue to increase the amount of females who are serving. So for me it is about utilizing talent. We have obstacles to overcome. There is still some bias in our Army about females that we are still attempting to overcome. Over time I believe we will be able to do that.
Participant: I am a doctoral student in the school of international studies. I understand most of your role in the Army. There are some places where the position was occupied by the civilians, for example the Secretary of Defense. What is the advantage of disadvantage of both sides?
General Odierno: Are you talking about whether they have military experience or not?
Participant: I think the example is on the base they are subject to civilians. You are in the Army and subject to the civilians. So when you see the special relationship between China and the U.S., what kind of different establishments, must you have?
General Odierno: I see. The way our government is set up is by the United States' Constitution. You have to have civilian oversight of the military. So we have a Secretary of Defense. We have a Secretary of the Army. They provide a political view, and they are the ones in charge of the military. As the Chief of the Army, I provide them military advice on our positions. It is different, as you noted. I have been in the Army for 38 years. My perspective is really about the impacts on the Army, the Soldiers, and its capabilities, whereas sometimes our civilian leaders, such as the Secretary of Defense, might look at it from what is right politically.
So sometimes we have disagreements on what we should do because of our different experiences. It is my responsibility to give them my honest opinion. In fact, before I can become the Chief of Staff of the Army, our Congress has to certify me. I have to go testify. They ask me questions. Then they approve me to be in the job. Then I have to sign a paper that says I will always give my honest opinion that will not be motivated politically. I have to sign that. The reason for that is they want honest military advice. So what I have found in our system is they are more than willing to listen to my military advice, and I always have the opportunity to provide it. That does not mean that they will follow it. (Laughter). The way it works in our country is that they are elected. So they are elected by the people of the United States, including the President. Then he gets to appoint his other political leaders such as the Secretary of Defense. Because of that, they have the final say. That is the way our government is set up. So I find the system works very well. Sometimes it is frustrating because there are times when my opinion might be different than those of my political leaders, but the most important thing is I have the opportunity to give them advice. I appreciate that very much.
Participant: I am a student in the school of international studies. I want to ask you a question. We know you are the Commander in the military operations in the Middle East. (Inaudible). The second question is about the Air-Sea Battle. In recent years the discussion has been focused on (inaudible) and emphasizing the Navy and Marines. I am curious as to what kinds of role the Army played (inaudible)?
General Odierno: First, your comment on the Middle East is right on. The Middle East is an incredibly complex environment. What I explain to everyone is that there is nothing that is independent. It is all related in some way. There are several things going on in the Middle East right now. If you look at Syria and look at Iraq and look even at Bahrain and Lebanon and a few other places, you are seeing play out a Sunni-Shiite conflict. The Sunni side is represented by Saudi Arabia. The Shiite side is represented by Iran. You are seeing proxies fight this disagreement across many different lines. You see them fighting each other in Iran. You see them fighting each other in Iraq. We are seeing violence extended into Lebanon. So my concern is we have this divide between the Muslims in the Middle East that could really fracture the Middle East in the long run. So that is something that we watch very carefully.
The second thing that is going on within the Middle East is this conflict or fight between moderate and extremist Islam. You are seeing that play out in Egypt. You have extremists that are attempting to gain more control, maybe not necessarily through governments, but though violence and other types of influence. You are seeing them fight moderate Islam. The worry is whether this will extend throughout the Middle East. You are seeing it play out a little bit in Egypt. You are seeing it play out in Iraq with Al Qaeda in Iraq. You see it play out in Syria. So there are several different interactions that I am concerned with. What does this mean to everybody? What it means is to the Middle East is oil. What is interesting is the U.S., we will be energy independent by the end of 2015, but it does affect Western Europe. It could affect China. It could affect some other nations who garner a lot of their energy out of the Middle East. My worry is that this could cause a significant international issue if we allow this schism to continue for long periods of time in the Middle East. So we are watching it very carefully. It is very violent right now. A lot of innocent civilians are being affected. It is creating humanitarian crises with lots of refugees. So for me we have to watch very carefully the Middle East. It is something that is very uncertain right now. Nobody is quite sure where it is going. We have to watch it very carefully.
In terms of your second question on the Air-Sea Battle, the Air-Sea Battle is really a concept. It is not a strategy. That is the one thing I remind everybody. Air-Sea Battle is a tactical concept that is built in order to ensure that we have certain capabilities with our air and sea forces. It is not a strategy to work towards a region. It is just part of a concept that has been developed.
In terms of the Army, I have spoken about the Army around the world, and our role. Let me use the Asia Pacific region as an example. Our role here is three fold. What most people do not realize is that eight out of the ten largest land armies in the world are in the Pacific. So it is important for us to build relationships with those armies. That is why I am here. I am here to help build our relationship with the Chinese Army. It is important for having dialogue and discussion. I think together with dialogue and discussions you can add stability. So I think we play an important role just like here with other nations in the Asia Pacific. We also bring the ability to build partner capacity. We can help smaller countries to train. We can help them to conduct exercises. I think one of the major roles we have in this area is humanitarian assistance and disaster relief. I think we can add a lot in providing help and assistance to countries that need it where there are natural disasters. We have seen several of them over the last couple of years here, with the latest being in the Philippines, where both Marines and Soldiers ended up helping the Philippines, and also several years ago when they had the nuclear incident in Japan. So we want to be able to help in those areas. I think those are three major roles that the Army plays.
The difference between the Army and the Navy and the Air Force is that we use human interaction as our key aspect of what we do. We are there. We sit down. We talk to people and get to know people. I think that is an important role, where the Navy and Air Force tends to be the large capabilities, but they are stand off. It is important that we communicate with other nations. So I think the Army can play a role of helping communicate and get to know each other and building better relationships. I think that is where I see us going in the future as we think about our role. Thank you.
Participant: I am a student in the school of international studies. My question is a little bit broader. You served most of the time in the Middle East, other than the Asia Pacific. What is your perspective on the rebalance strategy of the Obama administration even in the second term? I hear in the second term people do not talk that much about the rebalancing strategy . I still want to hear from you on what the military's role is in that.
General Odierno: I am very involved in this. So I am more than happy to answer your question. First, the United States views itself as a Pacific nation. We have for my entire lifetime. A large part of the western United States borders the Pacific Ocean from Alaska down through California. We have the Hawaiian Islands. We have other U.S. territories such as Guam that are in the Asia Pacific region. So we can consider ourselves to be a Pacific country. In addition to that as we look to the future, the area of the Pacific is very important to us from an economic standpoint, and it is also important to us in terms of sustaining trade stability. That is for the United States because China is our second largest trading partner. Japan is a large trading partner. Korea is also. We are starting to trade again with Vietnam. So there are many other countries that are important for our economy.
That is what the rebalance is about. What happened was during the 2000's we got out to balance because of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. At the height of those wars, from 2008-2010, we had almost 300,000 Soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. From an Army perspective, many of the Soldiers who normally would work in the Asia Pacific region were in the Middle East. For us rebalancing is just rebalancing us back so they can participate in the Asia Pacific region. The one point I would make is our rebalance to the Asia Pacific is not about the containment of China. You will find no one who talks in that manner in the United States. What it is about is that I think there is mutual interest that we have, and we want to be able to work together with China in order to do what I just said. We are both have a huge economic stake in the Pacific. We have huge role in maintaining a level of stability that allows us to grow economically. That is really what this is. We think it is important for us to be working with all the countries in the Asia Pacific region to sustain this vibrant region that we think will continue for many, many years to come. So for us that is really what this is about. So I know some people interpret it differently, but that is not how we see it. That it's not our goal. I believe all of us are better off with a stable Asia Pacific region, which enables us to continue to grow economically, which helps all of our countries evolve in the Asia Pacific region. That is really our goal.
When we talk about rebalancing, that is really more of a statement that we have to get back into the region just so we can continue to ensure the stability and economic development. We cannot allow ourselves to continue to have so much capability in the Middle East. That is really what this is about as we talk about this. For us it is very important for the future that we do this. We do have some concerns. I would not be truthful if I did not say we have some concerns about North Korea. We have some concerns that we have a very young leader who is very unpredictable. We are not sure what he might do. We are worried about provocation with South Korea and what that might mean. He is developing ballistic missile capabilities along with nuclear weapons. Those can be very dangerous. So we have some concerns there from a very specific U.S. standpoint on stability. So that is another concern that we have.
Participant: How about Japan? Does your concern include Japan?
General Odierno: With Japan we have a long standing good relationship and a security relationship with Japan. Our position is that we think dialogue should be solving these problems. I think we push all our partners to use dialogue and have constructive solutions to the problems that exist. We do have a long-standing security relationship with Japan over the last 20 or 30 years.
Participant: I am a freshman in the school. Since the Gulf War the Americans have increased their numbers in other areas. How will the Army respond to the number of casualties it has.
General Odierno: I am not sure I understand. Oh, if the casualties go up? That is a very good question. I have been in uniform for a very long time. Society and their view on casualties, and not just military casualties, but also civilian casualties, is becoming much more stringent, which is a good thing. What we have to be able to do is become more precise and understanding of the situation so we limit the amount of death that is caused when we get into a military operation. Specifically, we try to limit civilian deaths and civilian injuries and civilian casualties. That is something that we take very seriously. Compared to other wars, if you compare it to other wars, the last 12 years in Iraq and Afghanistan, we have actually had a significantly lower amount of casualties, though it is still a lot. One life is one life.
We are trying to develop a combination of capabilities that view war as the last resort. We try to solve problems by other means, but if we have to go to war, we have become precise enough, and we are good enough, where we really limit the amount of civilian casualties and those casualties that occur to us. Those of us in uniform, those of us who have been involved in war, are the ones who never want to have to go to war. We recognize the chaotic nature of it and the random death and destruction that can come from war. A lot of people believe if you are in uniform, you want to go to war. Trust me, if you have ever been to war, you never want to do that again. Our job is to prevent war. That is how I see our job. It is to prevent conflict. That is what we try to do.
Participant: Do you go after them remotely? (Inaudible) Given the history of the relationship between Asia and America, I think that the military has to play a very specific role. Since 1970 when the Army and Navy came to East Asia, (inaudible). It has also established a way to deal with cultural conflicts with other civilizations (Inaudible). How can both sides overcome the barriers and conflicts to build a more stable relationship between America and the Chinese?
General Odierno: History is a funny thing. Depending on how far you go back, there are times when China and the U.S. were together, and are times when we were not. So it really depends on the time. If I were in another audience, I would say the same thing because I mean it. I think that China and the U.S. have more in common than most people realize. We have much more in common with China than we do with many other nations that we are close partners with. So I think what we have to do is emphasize those commonalities and those common objectives that we have. We should be looking at how we become partners in the future. I think that is one of the reasons I am here. I believe the military can help with that.
We can build a partnership with the Chinese Army. It is about exchanges. It is about getting to know each other. What I have found in my lifetime is we call it the fear of the unknown. When you don't know somebody, or something, or some culture, you sometimes fear it. The best way to get around that is to get to know it better and to have exchanges and to have discussions. I think when we do that we will find we have a lot in common with each other. I think a lot of things that China wants and a lot of things the United States wants are very compatible. So I want to focus on what is compatible. Sometimes you tend to focus on things we disagree on. Let's focus on the things we are compatible with. Let's work through that. I think ultimately that will help us to solve the things that we tend to disagree on. That is how I see this. I am hoping that we will open a dialogue that allows us to have a significant amount of exchange that will allow us to build trust with each other and get to know each other better. I think if we do that everyone will be much better off because a strong China-U.S. relationship could have significant impact on many other people as well.
Participant: I am a little bit curious when you say you picture China as a potential partner in the future. May I ask how you judge the Chinese military force so far during the trip?
General Odierno: I think so. China is investing very heavily in the military, as it has been pointed out to me. In one way China is different than the United States because of their borders. They have borders that are concerning to them. We do not have that problem in the United States. We have Canada and Mexico, and they are very peaceful. (Laughter). I will not get into the internal security issues. However, for China it is a little bit different. So how we use our militaries are very different. I think the Chinese military is growing. It is growing its capability. That is why it is important that we sit down and have discussions so we have mutual understanding as we move forward. We do not want this to be a competition. We don't ever want this to turn into a competition between the U.S. and Chinese militaries. That is not what this should be. This should be about sustaining a level of stability and economic vibrancy, as I said earlier, in the Pacific region. I think in the future, we can help in other places around the world where we both have common interests and try to solve those problems. For me that is the most important thing. We want to work with the military, at least with the Army, and help them develop, and develop together concepts and future technologies that we can use together. It will be a good partnership.
Participant: How do you assess the current military relationship? What are your concerns?
General Odierno: It has been very clear that the two Presidents really set the stage for this. They have had more meetings than they have had in a very long time. I think they have told us what they want us to do. They want us to establish a relationship. They want us to improve the relationship between our two nations. I think the military to military relationship is probably one of the most important ones that we have to establish between each one of our nations. So I think they have set the stage for us. The visit I have had so far has been incredibly positive. I think we are trying to establish some mechanisms that will help us to come together as militaries that will reduce the unknown and that will increase trust built on mutual respect for each other. I think we are heading down the right path. I am very encouraged. We will always have disagreements about certain things. We have disagreements with all sovereign nations. We all have certain things that are important to us with every nation. That is natural. The important thing is you have a strong enough relationship where you can overcome those disagreements. I think that is what is important. I think that is what we are trying to build. I think these next few years are going to be very important. I think hopefully there will be several engagements this year. I think I am the first this year, but I think there will be several more. We will continue to build on this relationship. I think you will really start to see it move forward. I am very encouraged about it and the discussions that we are having.
Participant: I am glad to see you here. I know that you have served in Iraq, and I am interested in that. What were you thinking when you left Iraq? Is there any difference between before you went to the area and when you left?
General Odierno: First, I want to make it clear that I did not make the decision to leave Iraq. (Laughter) Your question is a very good one. I spent almost five years there. I spent a lot of time in Iraq. I will tell you that it is hard to explain to people that if we did nothing else, we got rid of a brutal dictator who did unbelievable things to his own population. The stories that I heard from everyone during the time I was there were horrendous stories of how he suppressed and used the population. So if we did nothing else, we did that.
Iraq is a very important country. It is right in the center of the Middle East. It is a country with a large ethnic diversity that is different from any other country. It has Kurdish, Sunni, and Shiite that live there together. They have great oil wealth. So they are a country of great importance. I think it is important that we stay involved with them.
Let me talk about some of the things we did wrong. When we went in there we were able to topple the regime very quickly. We were able to take Saddam Hussein out of power. We did not understand what I term the societal devastation that occurred in Iraq for the last 20 years before that. It was a country where over the 20 years before they constantly had been at war with somebody. Their educational system, which was one of the best in the Middle East, had fallen apart. Their medical system had fallen apart. Their economic system had fallen apart.
We misunderstood where these internal rivalries and strife had been created in those 20 years. So when we toppled the regime, we thought they would be able to very quickly come together. Frankly, what happened was we opened up a box of hatred that had been brewing between these different groups for a very long time. We were able to get that under control. We had an election, actually two elections, that were very successful and highly attended by the population. So we decided when we left in 2011, the one problem that occurred was there was still incredible mistrust between the different parties. That has played out since we left in the last two years. This mistrust has created an abuse of power, which has now devolved back into violence.
I still have hope that Iraq can turn out very, very well and be a productive part of society, but they are going to struggle for a while before they get there. They have great wealth. They have significantly increased their export of oil. They have a lot of oil. They have a lot of natural gas. They have increased their exports. What they have not been able to do is politically get that and share it around the country. That is causing issues. So for me it is a bit disappointing. I thought we were really heading on the right track. We gave them the security they needed. We gave them the time and space to work out their political differences, but for many reasons that has not happened. So we have seen violence return. So our hope is they now understand they have a problem. They are now working through that themselves. We are hoping that they will be able to resolve that. It is something of a real concern to us.
Speaker: Thank you very much for your time General Odierno. (Inaudible). On behalf of the faculty and students of my school, we have benefited a lot from your visit. We hope that you will have another chance to find time to come and visit us again.
General Odierno: I wish I could spend more time. I wish I could hear your opinions about things. That is what I am really interested in.
Speaker: Please join me thanking General Odierno.
End of Remarks.