WASHINGTON (Army News Service) -- The Army is not doing a good enough job of communicating and connecting with the American people, said Secretary of the Army Eric K. Fanning, adding "That's not healthy for the country or the Army."

Fanning spoke at an Association of the United States Army's Institute of Land Warfare-hosted professional development forum breakfast, June 28.

The lack of connectivity has not happened overnight, he explained. It started decades ago with the creation of the all-volunteer force, "which caused a divide over those who served and those who are protected."

That divide doesn't bode well for future recruiting efforts and getting the resources the Army needs from Capitol Hill, Fanning said.

The Army needs to find ways to reach out -- particularly to the new generation -- and tell the Army story, he said.

WAYS TO CONNECT

Fanning suggested several gateways for making that connection, social media being one and engaging more with the press and policymakers as others.

Himself a social media user, the secretary said it's a tool that could be used to share with everyone what the Army is doing, and get that told in an accurate and informative manner.

The Army brings a lot to the fight. It is large, for instance, with huge geographical reach, he said. It brings great capability to the fight -- to the joint fight. That could be communicated.

When people think about the third offset strategy, they think about sophisticated aircraft and vessels the Air Force and the Navy field. "The Army is undersold and underappreciated with the role technology plays," he said.

For instance, there's 10 times as much computerized code in a tank today than there was in the spacecraft that flew men to the moon, he said. There are robotics, autonomous vehicles and a lot of other things in the Army that are high-tech and need to be talked about. That too could be told.

Another way to connect is through word of mouth, Fanning said. If you walk down the street and see a person in uniform, chances are, they're in the National Guard or Reserve. They're in every community and are a potent source for telling the Army story. They bring unique capabilities to the fight and are integral to the total force.

Asked why youngsters choose joining the Army, Fanning replied that when he visits basic training at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, he poses that question to the parents.

They often reply that there's a family connection. Perhaps an uncle or grandfather served, he said. That's how important staying connected is. The Army is literally "America's service."

BIGGEST THREAT TO ARMY

Fanning addressed a number of other concerns during a question and answer session.

When asked what he thought was the biggest threat to the Army, Fanning replied "the budget instability and the political environment."

He noted that budget uncertainty "makes it very hard to put together any sort of long-term plan. … It's the biggest threat to building the most capable Army we can build."

BUDGET REFORM

Regarding budget reform, Fanning noted that's still a big problem after many attempts to tackle it.

Some of what stymies reform is the enormity of the bureaucracy, he said. "Bureaucracies are additive. … [There's] too much oversight and top-down management. We have to loosen that up because we're not fielding capabilities as fast as we should and we're spending a lot of money in the process."

Asked about his involvement with a new "Rapid Capabilities Office," Fanning explained that its purpose is ferreting out the capabilities the adversaries are acquiring -- capabilities that are often a surprise to the U.S. military -- and getting new or counter capabilities out to the field as quickly as possible. Two areas of special concern are electronic warfare and cyber.

SOLDIERS AND FAMILIES

Soldiers are being asked to do a lot, Fanning said, referring to multiple deployments. Although they join to do that, it eventually can and does take a toll on the family.

It's the Army's job to reassure Soldiers that their families are being taken care of when they deploy, he said.

Family programs are part of that plan and it's a big institution, he said. There are so many programs and "I'm not sure we have the oversight and integration, or that they're as effective as they could be. It should be made as easy as possible for families to reach out and find the help they're looking for.

"We need to find out which programs are working and which are not and which could be improved or done away with so resourcing can be used for other things," he continued.

SUICIDES & SEXUAL ASSAULT

Regarding suicides, Fanning said that's a difficult nut to crack. There's still a stigma out there to seeking help and the numbers don't look good. The suicide rate this year -- about 100 -- is the same as it was last year.

But Army researchers and behavioral health experts are laser focused on getting answers, he added.

As to sexual assault, Fanning said "a lot has been done on the response side, but more needs to be done on the prevention side."

Even just one suicide or one sexual assault case in the Army is one too many, he added.

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