Odierno: Ebola largest medical emergency since plague

By Lisa FerdinandoOctober 16, 2014

Gen. Odierno holds virtual town hall
Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno answers a question in a virtual town hall at the Google Headquarters in Washington, D.C., Sept 22, 2014. His wife Linda Odierno listens as several installations from across the United States and Afghanistan partic... (Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Sept. 22, 2014) -- The Ebola outbreak is the largest medical emergency since the plague, and the Army is assessing how to respond to this "dire situation," said the Army's top general.

"It is a very bad situation," Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Ray Odierno said today, at Google's office in Washington, D.C., during his first Google hangout, a virtual town hall that lasted more than an hour.

"We just got a team on the ground over there doing an assessment of what is needed," he said. "It is a medical emergency of proportions we haven't seen since the plague centuries ago."

More than 2,800 people are known to have died since late March in the outbreak, according to the latest figures from the World Health Organization.

Odierno said the Army is looking at sending logistics personnel and hospitals, with perhaps hospital staff and aviation support later.

"I think the majority, initially, of people going over will be logistics personnel that will be separated from where the disease is, in order to assist in providing support," he said.


The world is an increasingly dangerous place and the Army will continue to respond to these threats, Odierno said in the virtual town hall, where he fielded questions from Soldiers in Afghanistan; Fort Hood, Texas; Fort Campbell, Kentucky; and Fort Riley, Kansas.

The Installation Management Command, the Surgeon General's office, and the chief of staff's wife Linda Odierno also participated in the event.

"I believe it's time for us to have a security debate, because of what I call the increased velocity of instability around the world, and the fact that I believe that our requirements are going up, not down," he said.

The current force strength is at 510,000, he said, although by the end of September 2015, that number will be at 490,000.

"Congress has to have a debate, we need to be involved with it," he said. "We need to further discuss whether future reductions in end strength and sequestration are the right things, not only for the Army, but for the other services as well, as we continue to be involved."

Odierno warned that Soldiers would bear the brunt of any miscalculation in force size.

"If we make a mistake in end strength, it falls on the backs and shoulders of our Soldiers who we're going to ask to continue to do a variety of missions," he said. "That's very important to me that we do all we can to take the pressure off of them and so we have enough capacity to deal with these problems."

In light of budget constraints, the Army is examining how to reduce the rate of growth, and see where administrative costs can be reduced or improvements can be made in areas including healthcare, childcare, retirement benefits, and the commissary, all while keeping the Soldier's interests in mind.

"It's very important for us that we sustain the benefits that are proportional to the sacrifice that our Soldiers and families make," he said.

"Right now, the only thing that has a possibility of being approved is a one-percent pay raise, instead of one point eight percent," he noted.

"We want to do what's best for the Army overall in terms of training and readiness, but also taking care of our families and our Soldiers," Odierno said.


Odierno said that he believes that if the Army has Soldiers who understand what is expected and what professional, proper behavior is, then that would "eliminate a lot of our problems," including sexual harassment and sexual assault.

The Army has strong institutional training for the Army professional, but that training goes by the wayside if it is disregarded at the operational level, he said.

"We still have a lot of work to do there," he said.

"In my mind, what can happen is you have great training in the institution, but if you go to your unit, and they're not implementing [it] and they're not following the standards of what we consider to be the profession, then it falls apart," Odierno said.


The Army is currently in the middle of a two-year review on opening all military occupational specialities, or MOSs, to women, he said.

In March, the Army plans on conducting an assessment course for women to be Army Rangers, he said.

"I think we should open it up to everybody," he said, noting that the standards for entry into the elite program will not change.

The Army is opening more and more positions to women.

"Right now, I believe we're going to open up as many MOSs as possible for women. I think we're well on our way to doing that," he said.


Odierno said in the future, the Army will see multiple events going on around the world that require smaller deployments.

"What this means is, we are going to have more decentralized execution, which means that decision making is going to be pushed down to lower levels," he said.


Soldiers with post-traumatic stress disorder can continue to contribute to society and do things they would otherwise normally do, Odierno said.

The Army is working to combat the stigma associated with PTSD, and counter a misconception that every Soldier who served overseas is "incredibly violent and has all kinds of issues," he said.

Soldiers sacrificed so much for the nation, Odierno said, and they deserve the best because of their service to the nation.

"Every day I wake up and I worry about this," he said about countering stigma associated with getting help for behavioral health problems and the negative perceptions of Soldiers with PTSD.

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