By Stephen P. Kretsinger Sr., PQC Contractor with U.S. Army Combined Arms Center Public AffairsSeptember 17, 2015
Current limited resources are a hard truth every leader must face in today's Army, but advice from a commanding general working in one of the world's top hot spots may help guide young leaders as they face challenges ahead.
Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, commanding general of United States Army Europe, visited Fort Leavenworth Tuesday and spoke to students from both the Command General and Staff College (CGSC) and the School of Advanced Military Studies (SAMS). The purpose of his visit was to advise up-and-coming field-grade officers how to make the most of the resources they have to succeed in their mission.
"I wanted to come to Fort Leavenworth to talk to students -- both in the Staff College and at the SAMS Course -- and the folks at the Mission Command Center of Excellence about the challenges and the mission we have in Europe," Hodges said. "We used to have 300,000 Soldiers in Europe and the mission then was to deter the Soviet Union. We have 30,000 Solders in Europe now and the mission is to deter Russia -- ten times more space, but with about 10 percent of the troops. So, our task is to make 30,000 look and feel like 300,000. I want to explain to the students how we're trying to do that."
With the current situation in Europe there may be no better commander who could speak to these challenges and what junior officer may face in the coming years. Hodges spoke of three significant security issues in Europe.
"The changed security situation in Europe with Russia's invasion and illegal annexation of Crimea, and what they are doing in eastern Ukraine has created a lot of concern about security and stability in Europe," Hodges said. "The flow of immigrants coming out of Syria, and across the Mediterranean out of Africa has become a significant problem for all the European nations, and it's beginning to affect the United States presence in Europe. And of course, ISIL, and what they're doing in the Middle East and Islamic extremism in Europe."
Hodges spoke to how his organization works with limited resources in such a challenging environment that is Europe. He has broken it down into five pillars that make 30,000 look and feel like 300,000: empowering junior leaders, National Guard and Reserve components, allies and partners, regionally aligned forces, and active engagement.
"The first pillar is empowering junior leaders," Hodges said. "We have non-stop exercises going on from Estonia to Bulgaria -- the Atlantic Resolve series of exercises. We are doing more than 50 exercises this year alone that are battalion or larger. We are also doing exercises in Ukraine, Georgia and back in Germany. So, you can imagine with our small number of units, in order to spread that effect, we have captains in several countries that are the senior U.S. commander in that nation."
Because of these challenges and the strong emphasis on empowering junior leaders, Europe has become an important leadership lab. To understand the magnitude of that responsibility, Hodges spoke to the difficulty in working in multiple countries over the course of an exercise with limited resources.
"You've got junior officers and non-commissioned officers who are put in places where it's not uncommon for the ambassador, prime minister or defense minister of that country to know a captain by his first name," Hodges said. "That's how much interaction they have. These young leaders have to understand what's going on around them in terms of the political situation of the host nation. They have to be confidant to explain things to an ambassador."
Things we take for granted in America, may be much more difficult when leading exercises in Europe. Movement from country to country is not as simple as driving from one city to another.
"It's not like driving along I-95 up and down the East Coast," Hodges said. "It requires weeks of prior notification. There's a lot of understanding junior leaders are having to understand about how to move internationally with their tactical convoys."
By far the great challenge Hodges faces is the lack of capability. His organization currently addresses this issue with the help of European Reassurance Initiative (ERI) funding, which helps fund three of the five pillars.
"We absolutely do not have enough capability to do what we have to do," Hodges said. "We are completely dependent on ERI. With what's just in the base budget, there's no Atlantic Resolve, there's no equipment preposition in Europe, there's no rotational forces… nothing. Without that sort of contingency funding, we don't have enough capability to provide insurance and deterrence. That is my biggest concern."
During the general's presentation to the CGSC, five officers were able to speak to the attendees by way of video teleconference from countries as far away as Latvia, Czech Republic and Hungary. These officers spoke to the challenges they face and how they apply the Hodges's five pillars to help them succeed in their mission.
"The MCE is an organization of only 90, but we're doing the work of an entire division (headquarters)," said Maj. Rich Peacock, an engineering officer with the 4th Infantry Division and currently assigned to the 3rd Mission Command Element forward deployed to the Slovak Republic. "We have one brigadier general, one lieutenant colonel and a whole handful of iron majors that are doing the staff planning for a warfighting mission headquarters in theater. We couldn't make 30,000 look and feel like 300,000 without the support of our Reserve and National Guard component. The State Partnership Program here gives us the depth to ensure that Operation Command and Resolve are truly a success."
Hodges tied his message directly to the Army Operating Concept and hopes the students at Fort Leavenworth will embrace the resources they have and use them in innovative ways to succeed at their mission.
"The message I really want to leave with all the students today is a recognition that in a complex world we need adaptive leaders -- the Army Operating Concept -- you're never going to have enough resources; that's just the way it is," Hodges said.
Hodges added that this entire idea is why his five pillars came into existence for U.S. Army Europe.
"What we're try to do in U.S. Army Europe is heal ourselves first," Hodges said. "We're not sitting around wringing our hands thinking, 'We don't have enough stuff to do what we have to do.' That's where the five pillars comes from. That's what I'd expect from students coming out of Fort Leavenworth to ask themselves: 'Have I done everything I can with what I have to get the most out of it?'"