FORT HOOD, Texas (Jan. 21, 2016) -- The Acting Secretary of the Army Patrick J. Murphy visited the troops for the first time, Jan. 20, since assuming the acting secretary position and confirmed as the under secretary. Murphy said Fort Hood stands out as a leader when it comes to helping Soldiers transition to civilian life and he wants to export those successes to the rest of the force.
"Fort Hood is really the model when it comes to the Soldier for Life program," said Murphy in an interview following a one-day tour spent with Soldiers and their Families. "As acting secretary of the Army, we need to expand on those type of programs around the country."
The visit underscored Murphy's priorities of talent management and transition programs like Soldier for Life -- Transition Assistance Program. He pointed to Fort Hood's Shifting Gears, an automotive technical training initiative with General Motors and Raytheon, as the type of "bold, private partnership" that the rest of the Army should emulate. The 16-week training course prepares Soldiers to fill service technician jobs with GM dealerships across the country, with many graduates securing positions prior to graduation.
In the last five years, Murphy said the Army and Department of Defense have spent $4.6 billion on unemployment compensation for transitioning service members. It is money that Murphy wants to put towards helping Soldiers find employment in the first place.
"It makes good fiscal sense that we can save some of that money by being proactive on the front end and use some of that money to better Soldier for Life programming for our Families and our Soldiers," Murphy explained. "The Army cannot do it alone."
In a candid afternoon meeting with civic and community leaders from across Central Texas, Murphy praised civilian efforts to be part of Army solutions.
"To see in action what the community of Fort Hood is doing -- the civilian community outside the gates and the community inside those gates -- and how they are working at creating these public/private partnerships is inspiring," he said. "We need to take those lessons learned here at Fort Hood and expound on them across the Army at every installation."
During the meeting, he addressed concerns about the future growth for one of the Army's largest installations and the impact of force reduction decisions.
Retired Gen. James Thurman, a former Fort Hood division commander, told Murphy that he worries that emerging global threats and current operational tempo are "burning the force out." Thurman, and others, pointed to the Army's decision to cut the number of brigade combat teams across the force from 45 to 31.
"If you want to maintain an Army, you have to have modernization," Thurman noted during the outreach luncheon.
Murphy, a former Army officer with service in Iraq and two-term congressman from Pennsylvania, said that for years the Army has been the "bill payer" for the Department of Defense, and agreed that 14 years of sustained combat are taking a toll on Soldiers and their Families. He asked for their help in taking the Army's story to the American public to remind them of the value the Army has to the nation.
"Your work is where the rubber meets the road," Murphy told the community leaders during the meeting. "We need to partner with you to make it easier to partner with us."
Murphy spent the latter half of the day with 1st Cavalry Division Soldiers and Families to get a better feel for what issues they are facing. Many of the troops represented members of the 1st Brigade Combat Team, who are scheduled to deploy to South Korea as part of a rotational force to replace a sister brigade already on the peninsula.
Standing in front of a packed audience inside the brigade's chapel, he took questions ranging from aging Fort Hood barracks to extended on-post child care hours to the financial uncertainties the Korea deployment brings to Army Families. Unlike past deployments to Iraq, Afghanistan and other global hot-spots where Soldiers can pocket extra combat pay and income tax exemptions, rotational forces to Korea don't always qualify for the same benefits.
"I want to make sure that every Soldier has what they need," Murphy assured the crowd, "readiness is number one."