BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- Speaking with conviction, Gen. Gus Perna, commander of the Army Materiel Command, told a group of Birmingham business, political and community leaders that the Army needs their support and partnership to ensure it remains the greatest, strongest, smartest and most professional all-volunteer force in the world.

"We want to build support for our veterans and our Soldiers," Perna said. "That is an easy task because this community embraces its veterans. This community leads the way. We want you to truly believe that you can trust us to be ready to do our job when called to do it, to be part of your community and to teach youth about service."

Perna made his comments during a keynote address to a group of about 250 leaders at a Rotary Club of Birmingham luncheon Aug. 22. His presentation was part of Meet Your Army activities in Birmingham, which included visits with Mayor Randall Woodfin and University of Alabama at Birmingham president Dr. Ray Watts, a roundtable discussion with members of the Birmingham Business Alliance and a presentation to UAB ROTC cadets.

"We are here today to connect with this city and walk through our relationship," Perna said. "We want your trust and confidence in us. We are more than what you perceive. We are trained and ready for war, but we are also valuable citizens in your city."

Meet Your Army is an outreach initiative that sends Army leaders to American communities to educate, excite and inspire the American public to support and sustain their Army with resources and recruiting. Birmingham is one of 14 cities the Army is focusing on in 2018.

"In today's communities, only 1 percent of the population has served or is serving," Perna told the Rotarians. "This is significant. We must continue to message and partner with each other. We need countless professionals to maintain our all-volunteer force.

"But we're losing touch. People don't know who we are and why we exist. We need to be partners to enable what you do every day, and to protect and honor our constitution. We can only do that if we embrace each other, and that's why venues like this are so important."

Although Birmingham is a major metropolitan area in the state, there is little visible Army or military presence in the city. Yet, the Army is a significant force in Alabama, with major installations in Huntsville (Redstone Arsenal), Anniston (Anniston Army Depot) and Enterprise (Fort Rucker), and with the Air Force in Montgomery (Maxwell Air Force Base). There are 13 Army Reserve units in the Birmingham area, and about 20,000 active military in Alabama along with 17,000 Department of Defense Civilians and a veteran population of more than 300,000.

Perna asked the Rotary leadership for help with people resources, both with ensuring the nation's veterans are employed and recruiting young people into the Armed Forces.

"First, I want to ask you to hire veterans. That is huge for us. Veterans have selflessly served our country, and the key is they did it honorably. They are of the best character, they have highly competitive skills, and they are committed and trustworthy. You can count on them to get the job done," he said.

"Second, I ask for your help to continue to build capability by allowing access to recruiting Reserve and National Guard. And, third, I ask for anything you can do to encourage young men and women to enlist in our military so we can keep the momentum of an all-volunteer service alive."

Recruiters in Alabama are essential, he said, to ensuring an increased end strength and they need community support to be successful. For those who enlist or commission, the Army provides them with the education and training in fields that easily transfer to civilian life, including medicine, computer science, cyber technology and logistics.

"Opportunities for our young people are huge," Perna said. "The Army provides them with capabilities to either stay in the force or to come back home and assimilate into their local community."

Perna presented about a dozen Vietnam veterans in the audience with honorary pins.
"They deployed to Vietnam as the country wanted them to and they served their country. They swore oaths and then walked the walk," Perna said, his emotion evident as he told the audience about his father's three tours in Vietnam.

To remain a winning force, the Army's Soldiers, Perna said, must be 100 percent committed to what they do, competent in their responsibilities and of high moral character.

"We guarantee those three things," Perna said. "That is what you hire when you hire a veteran. That is what you are getting when you encourage young people to join the military. That is what you get when we come together."

Perna was introduced at the Rotary by Rotarian retired Maj. Gen. Lee Price, whose 38 years of service included becoming the Army's first female Program Executive Officer as the PEO-Command Control Communications-Tactical. She was also the first female in the Army Acquisition Corps nominated to general officer and first female selected for general officer while serving in a special operations unit.

"The Army must have the ability to be equal, and the ability to look past differences and ensure diversity. We have changed significantly in this light," Perna said. "It was leaders like Lee Price who led the way. Because of her physical and moral courage, she rose through the ranks."

Perna introduced Rotarians to Dr. Joe Fitzgerald, the civilian aide to the secretary of the Army, who shared the dais with him; and AMC Command Sgt. Maj. Rodger Mansker, describing the supportive and working relationship he shares with them that provides him with insight and advice in leading the 120,000 employees of AMC and ensuring Army materiel readiness.