Mastering Fundamentals: An interview with Gen. Michael Garrett

By Arpi Dilanian and Matthew HowardJanuary 16, 2020

Gen. Michael X. Garrett, commanding general, U.S. Army Forces Command, cheers on Soldiers assigned to 7th Army Training Command (7ATC) during the final stretch of an esprit-de-corps run, in Grafenwoehr, Germany, Oct. 29, 2019. Garrett spoke with 7ATC... (Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

As commander of United States Army Forces Command (FORSCOM), Gen. Michael X. Garrett is leading the charge to build and sustain Total Army readiness for large-scale combat operations. With an eye towards the Army of 2028 and beyond, the former United States Army Central (ARCENT) commander and United States Central Command (CENTCOM) chief of staff is posturing the force to ensure land power dominance anytime, anywhere. Here are his thoughts on how our sustainers and allies and partners contribute to mission success.

What are your primary focus areas in leading the Army's largest command?

My number one priority is people. Readiness has been the FORSCOM mission forever, and that won't change. Readiness is what FORSCOM does 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year to ensure the Army is able to fight and win our nation's wars. But people, more than anything, drive readiness.

During my initial counseling, Gen. Mark Milley, then Chief of Staff of the Army, looked me in the eye and said, "Mike, you are responsible for the readiness of our Army." What a statement. I'm a pretty simple person, and throughout my career I've tried to simplify complex concepts. Take General Milley's counseling: you could make it into a huge science project. But to me, at the base level of all of this, are the people inside of our Army.

My predecessor, Gen. Abe Abrams, put us on a positive path and at a level of readiness we frankly hadn't achieved for a long time. When your boss tells you you're responsible for readiness, it's nice that the person you are replacing has more than set our Army--and myself--up for success.

The longer I've been in the Army, I've learned you can't constantly change priorities; the Army doesn't move quickly enough. So my goal has been to maintain the priorities I fell in on. We'll make some minor adjustments to reflect the changing environment, but a big piece of this is mastering the fundamentals--and that applies to everybody.

As I've listened to commanders talk about readiness, there's concern we haven't spent enough time truly mastering the basics. It's not fair to compare our Army against any other, so I compare us against ourselves. Take sustainment, for instance. We went from an Army I thought was incredibly disciplined in our maintenance, supply, and oversight, to an Army where we lost a lot of that. This was the result of Army Force Generation and how we rotated forces in and out of Iraq and Afghanistan, but this all happened in a decade. Our sustainers must know the fundamentals of how to do maintenance and account for property. We're getting it back, but it's going to take time.

I tell commanders at all levels to test me on this. I don't want us to move on to a higher level of training until we have completely mastered the previous one. If the guy or gal confronting the enemy with a bayonet doesn't win, or if the Soldier that's part of a tank crew can't acquire and engage a tank first and win, guess what? If we can't win at the point of contact, we're probably not going to win at all. Mastering the fundamentals is critical and a top priority.

What concerns you from a sustainment perspective?

Before I assumed command of ARCENT, I didn't have a sense of how important our Army was to the sustainment of operations throughout the theater and how much of my personal time and effort would be focused on theater-level sustainment. As Gen. Joseph Votel came on board as the CENTCOM commander, I tried to share some of what I had learned: I talked about setting the theater, logistics requirements, and Army support to other services. A few months later, he came back and said, "Holy smokes, Mike, now I understand what you mean."

The Army is the foundation of logistics in the Middle East. Regardless of the commodity, class of supply, or process, we run it. Look at our aviation units, for instance, and the importance of maintenance and special tools. In Iraq, our operations were so decentralized that it was uncomfortable; the folks advising me would say every day, "We can't do this logistically." It wasn't easy, but because we have some very talented logisticians, we did it and we did it safely. We were not constrained by logistics; we were actually enabled.

As the FORSCOM commander, it's not lost on me that we ask the Army to do a lot every day. Often, the poor company, battery, or troop commander and first sergeant are left with more than they can actually do in terms of time and resources--so they actually have to choose. If we're not specific and articulate about what exactly we want them to do, they may be doing things we don't want.

I think this is the reason we've fallen off on some of the fundamentals. It's not because of what we said, but rather because of our actions. We said all of this stuff was important, but what we checked up on, and what those commanders were getting beaten up on, is what they did. Commanders at echelon have to be specific about what priorities are and take ownership of all aspects of warfighting readiness.

Command maintenance and supply discipline are an absolute must. We only have one maintenance standard in our Army: 10/20. If you go look at the manuals, they don't talk about anything else. Maintaining equipment to 10/20 standard is commanders' responsibility. But again, it's not what we say, it's what we do, and what we check.

The first visit I took as the FORSCOM commander was to Fort Hood, Texas, and focused on maintenance. I wanted to see the perspective of Private Garrett turning a wrench and using a manual and of Sergeant Garrett in that formation training Soldiers. I wanted to see the person on GCSS-Army and the folks in our Supply Support Activities (SSAs).

I found people wanting to do the right thing, but because of the tempo and how much we were asking them to do, we were forcing them to take shortcuts. 10/20 maintenance is not cheap, but a big part of that is being smart about what you're doing and ordering. In some cases, I think we overwhelmed accountable officers. Brigade commanders own their authorized stockage lists, and if they're not paying attention, Army resources can potentially be misplaced and misspent.

Across FORSCOM, we are paying close attention to our supply and maintenance processes, and I've tried be as articulate as possible about what our standards are and how we're going to meet them. I feel good about the direction we're heading as an Army, but we have to stay focused. All of our leaders and Soldiers at echelon need to stay the course on mastering the fundamentals before we ask them to do bigger things.

Can you discuss how we're strengthening interoperability with strategic partners

We never want to fight alone, especially in a world so interconnected. We always want to fight with allies, and being interoperable with our partners is something we absolutely have to do. While larger treaties used to be much more prevalent--NATO, for instance--we do a lot more bilaterally now. As a consequence, the Army as a whole is placing much greater emphasis on the technical aspects of interoperability.

Through interoperability roadmaps we're developing with each of our global partner armies, we're able to stay synchronized with their respective modernization initiatives. As each partner moves technology forward individually, we remain interoperable bilaterally.

Interaction before we're called upon to fight together is also required. After 18 years of coalition warfare, we have never been more comfortable operating in the same formations as our allies and partners--but there's always room for improvement. Through personnel exchange programs, a number of deputy commanders inside our corps and divisions are from our partner nations. This allows them to live our culture and better understand how we operate in the U.S. Army then communicate that to their own forces.

Multinational exercises with strategic partners also allow us to continue to mature our ability to interoperate. Several recent exercises have shown not only the need for greater interoperability, but also proof that such a capability is achievable in today's environment. We've started incorporating partners into our corps-level warfighter exercises, for instance. Elements from the United Kingdom have participated in recent exercises, and a French organization will take part later this year. It's a huge win as we work to better identify and work through challenges at echelon.

Just think about information sharing, particularly when it comes to sustainment. There are rules and laws that govern what can be shared, and current processes require teams to manually transfer data between partner systems. It's slow and imprecise. By training and exercising together, we can enable a sustainment common operating picture that allows our partners to almost seamlessly incorporate themselves into our network. Imagine if we had the same visibility on our partners' logistics requirements as we do our own. We've got to be thinking about those same things across all warfighting functions.

How does the Total Army play into interoperability given the speed at which we're modernizing?

The modernization piece is something I think about a lot. For me, it's an absolute must; we don't have a choice. It's a balance between meeting the requirement to fight tonight versus the requirement to ensure our Army is viable into the future, and if we don't get it right, we potentially face an Army that's irrelevant 10 years from now.

Gen. Mike Murray and Army Futures Command are leading the modernization effort, but it's not lost on me that FORSCOM plays a big role in figuring out how we do this for the Total Force. We have to ensure we're interoperable within our own Army. Sustainable Readiness means any unit could be called upon at any time, so the least modern unit has to be interoperable with the most modern unit, regardless of component. This backwards compatibility is absolutely critical as we move forward.

The other piece is being comfortable iterating your way through things without really having an end-state. Consider Moore's Law and the rate of change in technology: for us to think things we are considering today are going to be relevant in 2035, it's just not going to happen. We may be close, but think about where we were 10 years ago compared to today. We have to continually question where we are and be looking for the next best thing--that's what our competitors are doing.

You've said leadership is the difference between winning and losing. Can you elaborate People ask me, "What keeps you up at night?" Nothing; I sleep like a baby! During the day, however, there's a lot I think about, but only a couple of things I obsess over. Leading by example and the notion of hypocrisy is something I'm focused on like a laser. You pick the formation, and we expect our leaders to be competent and confident in their ability to lead from the front by personal example. Good leaders only have to say things once: they reinforce what they want through their actions and decisions every day.

Our non-commissioned officer (NCO) corps separates our Army from every other in the world. The reason they're different is because they are experienced and empowered. I'm absolutely convinced that at the end of the day, if there's one person standing, it's going to be an NCO ensuring we win. He or she will do that because they knew the commander's intent and did everything they could to get it done.

My father is a retired command sergeant major. Growing up, it was all about the standard in our house. The four Garrett kids all knew what the standard was because my dad modeled that behavior every day. I bump into people all the time; they've read all the FORSCOM documents, they can recite our priorities, and they can tell me what I've said is important. But at the end of the day, they're looking to me to ensure the audio--what they hear--matches the video, what they see.

That's what my dad did; you never had to worry about what Ed Garrett wanted. Leadership is the most important thing in all that we do. Never underestimate the power of your own example.


Arpi Dilanian is a strategic analyst in the Army G-4's Logistics Initiative Group. She holds a bachelor's degree from American University and a master's degree from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

Matt Howard is a strategic analyst in the Army G-4's Logistics Initiative Group. He holds a bachelor's and master's degree fr


This article was published in the January-March 2020 issue of Army Sustainment.

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