VCSA's remarks at Senior Safety Summit

By VCSAMay 5, 2016

So a dreary morning out there, I am glad to see that the emotions of this group of Professionals is not affected by the weather outside. I don't know what it was like when you came in here this morning, but it hasn't gotten brighter in the last hour or so. Althought the traffic is typical Washington D.C. And I'm not sure about the folks in the back and you must have heard about my Southern Baptist influence and am going to pass a collection plate. Good morning to everyone and thanks for the opportunity to join you today, and escape the Pentagon to spend time with an incredibly important group of leaders for our Army. I like to start with this slide (Medal of Honor Recipients Slide) and it often brings me back to a phrase coined by our 33rd Chief of Staff of the Army, General Dennis Reimer . . . who used to say "Soldiers are our credentials." As you see these great Soldiers depicted on this chart, it quite frankly answers the question for me, "Who is the Army?" For my simple announciation, this is our Army. The Soldiers are our Army. And this Soldiers in particular, ought captivate our attention. Soldiers committed to our Profession. Soldiers with unwavering confidence in their Profession, and Soldiers who have the character to do whatever is required, above and beyond the call of duty, to include sacrificing their life to save their teammates and complete the mission if and when required. In fact, as we gather here today, in the wake of Iraq and Afghanistan's many missions, 5600 Soldiers have made the ultimate sacrifice in response to the call to duty to our nation. They have done it with absolute professionalism. They have done it with complete compassion and commitment. And they must expect nothing less than our level best effort. Particularly as we look at the top row in this chart. These are four of our Medal of Honor recipients who made the ultimate sacrifice and whose loved ones' lives are forever changed, creating the opportunity for us to exemplify what is best about us as an Army Family and to stand in the gap with them . . . . forever.

I want to highlight one in particular. In December of 2006, 19 year-old Private Ross McGinnis was on a vehicle patrol with his platoon just north of Bagdad, Iraq, when an insurgent on a nearby rooftop threw a grenade into the turret of his HMMWV. He could easily have leapt from his position, where he manned the M2 Machine Gun, but at that moment, at that moment in time, he surpassed his duty . . . his moral obligation . . . to protect the lives of the other four Soldiers in that vehicle. So without hesitation, Private Ross McGinnis, yelled "grenade" to his teammates, giving them the opportunity to prepare for the blast, and then pinned the explosive between his body and the radio mount on the vehicle, absorbing the lethal fragments from the grenade. The explosion killed Private McGinnis, but saved the lives of the four other members of his crew . . . valorous intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty.

His family, as well as all of the families of our fallen heroes, are counting on us to ensure our personal and collective service Honors their sacrifice. As Tom Hanks in "Saving Private Ryan" challenged Private Ryan (you might remember Matt Damon as a younger Matt Damon) after his rescue cost the lives of Soldiers . . . "Earn this . . . earn it." And our profession is absolutely dependent upon this ethos. So as you think about who we are as an Army, a Joint force, as professionals, I would offer to you this is who we are, this is who is counting on us . . . as well as their parents, their sons, their daughters, for generations to come . . . to lead this trusted profession into the next decade and next century as the responsive, dominant land power that it is today . . . trusted Professionals All.

What our Soldiers have accomplished over the last 13-plus years is remarkable, and in the field of Safety our gains are also impressive. FY'14 we achieved the lowest number of Soldier accidents on record . . . and that is something to be proud of. But as we get smaller while continuing to expand our regional engagement . . . we need every Soldier in our formation, trained, ready, and able to serve to their full potential. There were 127 fatal accidents in Fiscal Year 2014, and despite our great progress, on-duty fatalities were up slightly between FY13 and FY14. As we transition out of the regimented training cycle associated with Army Force Generation, we must reinforce engaged leadership to change Soldier behaviors and stop preventable loss of life. It will take all of us . . . engaged Leaders at every level and empowered, accountable Leaders at tactical levels to drive this change . . . it is a task that we are equal to as Army Professionals!

In the last nine months four Soldiers were killed and two seriously injured when struck by moving vehicles in training environments. We must restore proven and accountable Leader actions to mitigate high risk training . . . . ground guides, night markings, no-drive areas . . . all proven measures. Getting our Army back to the knowledge and enforcement of standards is a leadership challenge that we must all take on.

We must stay engaged to drive down off-duty injuries. Frankly our Soldiers and Leaders do well at minimizing safety incidents while deployed; then we return home, full of a sense of invincibility, and we change our supervision practices and begin to create environments filled with excessive risk that can often lead to bad decisions and bad outcomes. There are still three times as many off-duty safety incidents as on-duty. The Chief of Staff and Secretary of the Army published clear occupational health and Safety instructions in October of last year focusing specifically on our challenge areas. And it is no surprise that our largest problem areas are with Personally Owned Vehicles and particularly motorcycles. We need innovative ideas and hands-on leadership to mitigate these killers, and like so many problems our Army experiences; these are frankly societal challenges that join us along with 125,000 new Soldiers each and every year. We need every Soldier in our formation, so we must continue to improve.

The solution to continuing to improve our safety mission is involved Leadership, Discipline and Standards. Each of you play a key role in understanding where the Army is going so we communicate clearly to Soldiers and Leaders while sustaining the professional training to help build a safety culture in our units, reinforced by Leader Development. Concurrently, we must know our Soldiers well enough to focus energy and essential resources on those at risk.

I'd like to discuss where your Army leadership envisions us going as we move towards Force 2025 and Beyond and how our Safety Professionals fit into this vision. (AOC Slide) Our Army is getting smaller, but our global commitments will not subside. We need every Soldier in our formation "fit to fight" to optimize our readiness and modernization efforts, so safety and avoidance of preventable accidents is job one for us to preserve our most important resource, the American Soldier. The Army Operating Concept provides a framework that guides our future force development by identifying first order capabilities, providing the intellectual foundation for our learning . . . and for applying what we learn as we build the force that will be dominant in the future.

The title of the Army Operating Concept is Win in a Complex World, and it recognizes that winning is accomplished at a political and strategic level, and our globally engaged Soldiers must be able to operate with equal mastery across the tactical to strategic Levels of War. I often think about the experience of the young Captain from the 173d Airborne, who last year, on very short notice deployed his Company to Lithuania for a training exercise in response to Russian aggression in the Ukraine . . . to demonstrate rapid deployment capabilities and American resolve in support of our NATO Allies. I am sure that this young Company Commander had thousands of priorities running through his mind as he exited the aircraft and prepared his company for this complex mission he had been given. But I am equally confident that nowhere in his calculus did he assume the first thing that he first person that was going to meet him was the President of Lithuania, to thanked him on behalf of her country for our country's arrival so quickly in their time of crisis. So a Company leader, certainly competent at the tactical level, now thrust into a strategic role now representing the President of the United States. Can you imagine? In my years of service and many, many deployments, I've yet to be met by the President of a foreign country when I landed . . . and I'm not holding my breath. So we must adapt our training and Leader Development practices to meet the realities of both today's and tomorrow's challenges and demands.

Next, the Army Operating Concept prepares our Army to operate in an increasingly complex world. The World is as complex and dangerous as I have certainly seen it in my 3 plus decades of service. The velocity of instability is increasing and our Soldiers and units must be prepared to operate across the full range of missions. The Army must be able to put an expeditionary, mission tailored, fully-capable force on the ground and still retain overmatch. We are deploying globally, and will respond again to high end threats -- and we do not have the good fortune of predicting where or when.

The Army Operating Concept establishes 20 Warfighting Challenges that identify capabilities the Army must possess to win. The solutions to these challenges will drive training, Leader Development, and future force design. Answers to the Army Warfighting Challenges will emerge during Force 2025 Maneuvers. Maneuvers that are a series of intellectual and physical activities that test ideas and concepts and develop interim solutions to the challenges we face today. They include the Network Integration Evaluation--or NIE--where we test emerging network technologies integrated with the Army operating concepts that are practiced in the field . . . and intellectual exercises, like the recent TRADOC-sponsored Innovation Symposium--a conference that brought together military, business, and academic leaders to formulate ideas to create a culture of rapid innovation in our Army. As we derive answers to the Army Warfighting Challenges, safety and risk mitigation considerations must be integrated at every step, and safety leaders must explore innovative ways to deliver a Leader-led culture of Soldiers and units that inherently operate safely within acceptable levels of risk, despite the dangerous work we do around the globe every day.

The Army Operating Concept stands on three foundational pillars. The first is Mission Command. Our teams at every echelon are sustained by a foundation of trust, they have systems in place that ensure shared understanding, and provide clear Commander's intent that enables subordinate leaders to seize, exploit, and retain the initiative . . . while managing prudent risk. Mission Command must span the joint, multinational, and interagency community . . . because this is how our Army operates in a crisis . . . we provide Command and Control and enables diverse groups to work together in an interoperable environment. Frankly, we bring order from chaos and make the complex, insoluble crises solvable at acceptable cost. Look at what the 101st and AFRICOM just did in Liberia in supporting USAID to address the Ebola epidemic. In case you haven't noticed, that hasn't been in the news for a while. The international Community possessed the capability to defeat that disease, but our Command and Control and capacity to integrate the diverse, distributed, array of contributors to achieve the desired outcome . . . helped achieve the effects quickly . . . thereby saving lives. Because of our effective Mission Command and top-down and bottom-up enforcement of standards in our JTF, we had no incidents of American Soldiers contracting the disease. That is a remarkable demonstration of how we exemplify a disciplined culture that enforces standards and operating practices to safely and successfully accomplish the mission and preserve resources concurrently.

The second pillar of the AOC is leader development. Our leaders are the connective tissue between Mission Command and our Soldiers. They must be adaptable and they must thrive in conditions of uncertainty and ambiguity. Our enemies and adversaries can copy and counter our superior technology, but they cannot match our leaders and our cohesive teams. And every Leader counts -- leaders who understand the culture required to operate safely--on and off duty. We will develop leaders that embrace the fundamentals of safety founded on discipline and adherence to standards. All safety officers will inspire responsible, balanced risk taking on and off duty. Under the Regionally Aligned Force concept, our Soldiers will be dispersed and operating independently across the globe. This will place a premium on our tactical level leaders to fulfill great responsibility and make critical judgment calls routinely . . . empowered and accountable to do what's right . . . always.

The third pillar of the Army Operating Concept is our Army Profession. When we talk about leadership and the Army Profession we commonly highlight the three Cs: Commitment, Competence and Character. This event is dedicated to building your competence, and reinforce commitment to this vital role. You must be experts in your trade, because ours is a high risk profession, and our Soldiers often operate at the razor's edge of risk. So we must ensure personal mastery of our Profession and inculcate our principles, standards and discipline across our distributed Army. This is where your commitment and character are invaluable. As Leaders, we must remain switched on and proactively engaged all of the time. You must help us drive this culture of safety where every Soldier is empowered and accountable to enforce the standard, stay engaged, and intervene when required.

This week is about developing yourselves as leaders and Professionals so that you can return to your commands and contribute to better leader development programs that instill a safety-based culture. I think there is a good comparison here with the Sergeant Major of the Army's campaign: "Not in my Squad. Not in our Army. We are trusted Professionals." Sergeant Major Daily just recently unveiled this bottom-up effort, initially focused on preventing sexual assault, but at its core, it is equally applicable to safety. "Not in My Squad" is aimed at empowering first-line leaders and holding them accountable to develop a culture of trust. First-line leaders are charged with the care of their Soldiers both on and off duty, and that care starts with taking ownership of the team. The success of this initiative weighs heavily on the ownership of this responsibility at every level . . . by all Army Professionals, but in particular, first-line leaders. We will drive the disciplined, Soldier-centric culture in our Army when every Sergeant, every leader exemplifies the opening phrase of the NCO Creed . . . "No one is more Professional than I."

To fulfill this objective we must know our Soldiers and be able to focus energy and resources to those at risk. (Slide with picture of Abrams and quote) As Creighton Abrams told us: "People aren't in the Army . . . People are the Army." And a more recent quote from another great leader that I admire, the Duke Basketball Coach, referred to lovingly as Coach K, and I quote "A common mistake among those who work in sports is spending a disproportional amount of time on "x's and o's" as compared to time spent learning about people." And he just won his fifth national championship with a team dominated by freshmen. Leaders at all levels must spend time getting to know their people so they can optimize mission performance, exploit strengths, address gaps, and intervene when the situation warrants. We are all blessed to serve on a team of committed professionals, who seize, exploit and retain the initiative by caring for our most important resource, our fellow Army Professionals.

We must continue to improve upon our culture of Safety on and off duty. Consistent with Mission Command philosophy we must empower those around us by our example. Personal exemplary actions, deliver 70% of the direct influence we have as leaders. Enforcing standards and not tolerating unsafe behavior is absolutely fundamental to our role as Leaders driving a culture of no unsafe actions in our Army. We need safety leaders who (1) understand where the Army is going so they can relate to Soldiers and Leaders, (2) are trained leaders, capable of influencing those around them, and building a safety culture in their units, and (3) who know their Soldiers and can focus energy on those at risk. Our Soldiers are our Army . . . and they are our Nation's most precious resource. Your charge is to help empower our Leaders to ensure we keep them safe so they can answer the call and defend our Nation.

Thank you for all that you do for our Army, congratulations on the progress you have made, God Bless you all, and I look forward to your questions.