AUSA Opening Press Conference 11 October 2021

By U.S. Army Public AffairsOctober 12, 2021


Secretary of the Army, Christine E. Wormuth

Chief of Staff of the Army, James A. McConville

Sergeant Major of the Army, Michael A. Grinston

Col. Wilkinson: Good morning ladies and gentlemen. Thank you all for joining us today. I’m Colonel Cathy Wilkinson, I’m the Army Media Relations Director. Today we have Secretary Wormuth, Chief of Staff of the Army, General McConville and Sgt. Maj. of the Army, Michael Grinston. The Secretary just gave a speech up in the ballroom so we won’t have any opening comments. We are going to get right into questions. I will call on you so please wait for me. We will rotate between people in the room and on the phone. If you could please identify yourself and your outlet. For the sake of time please ask one question. And if we have any follow ups we can get to those later on.

So, we have Lita Baldor on the phone. Lita.

Lita Baldor: Hi, good morning. Thank you so much for doing this. My question is for the Secretary and for the Chief. Can you talk a little bit about the effort to roll out the mandatory vaccine, how that's going, what percentage of your active duty force and what percentage do you think of the Guard and the Reserves have you been able to get vaccinated? And considering the challenges posed by doing this for the guard can you talk about any additional efforts that the Army make in order to get that done? And as a side question, has this affected recruiting in any way do you think? Thank you.

Secretary Wormuth: Good morning, Lita. I don't want to touch the microphone after this morning. But can you all hear me okay?

Here's where we are on the mandatory vaccines. First of all, I want to just stress that the vaccines are important for the health and safety and readiness of our force. So this is something that we need to be doing and it's the right thing to be doing. I get notifications anytime a soldier in our Army dies, and I can tell you that the number of soldiers in the Department of Army, civilians or contractors that are passing away due to Covid has increased markedly in the last couple of months - I think reflecting, you know, the effects of the Delta variant. So at this time we've got about 67% of the total Army has received at least the first shot. And for the active duty component that is 91% of our active duty soldiers have received at least one shot. And if I'm not mistaken, I think about 81% of the active force is fully vaccinated.

Our numbers are somewhat lower in the Guard and Reserve. In the Reserve, for example, we've got about 44% of our Reserve soldiers who have gotten at least the first shot. And I refer you to the Guard Bureau to get the percentages for the Guard Bureau. And what you're seeing there with our Reserve components is a couple of things. You know, they're obviously….. first of all, we have the largest reserve component of all of the services. And so I think that’s important to sort of factor that in. But obviously we have soldiers that are spread all around the country. Many of our Reservists do not live necessarily particularly close to the unit that they belong to. They only come in one weekend a month and so our ability to collect data on them and to check with them on how they're doing and making sure that they've gotten their vaccination status into the Medical Protection System (MEDPROS), you know, we only have a few opportunities to do that relative to the active force that we see every day.

Now, I do think, you know, there are probably a significant percentage of our Guard and Reservists who have actually been vaccinated in the civilian market, if you will, but may not have entered that data into MEDPROS yet. So what we're trying to do is to make sure when they come in for drill weekend to capture that. Just as an example, and she'll be annoyed that I mentioned this, but my sister is in the Army Reserves. She's a surgeon. And she's been vaccinated for months, as you can imagine, as part of her civilian job, but I kind of have a feeling her data is not yet in MEDPROS. So she's a good example I think of the phenomenon that we're going to see in our Guard and Reserve on the vaccine implementation plan. And I will stop there.

Col. Wilkinson: Okay.

Steve Beynon: Steve Beynon, With the rollout of the SHARP revamp with essentially, with the (inaudible) recently with the first stage of the SHARP revamp effectively with the sexual assault resource centers opening up on a handful basis, that's basically a sequel to a program the Army did in 2014. Most of the rollout isn't going to happen for most things until 2027. We're a year and a half after the Vanessa Guillen incident and the first step is just these centers that we already have on some bases or have had in the past. So does this show that the Army is serious about tackling this stuff? And what other programs is the Army going to do to combat sexual assault and sexual harassment?

Secretary Wormuth: Sure, I'll take that. First of all, I would say we're doing much more to deal with the sexual harassment, sexual assault challenge than just rolling out the Fusion Directorate Pilots. You know, we have been working on this problem since immediately after what happened at Fort Hood. You know, fundamentally, I think what's really needed to make change is to focus on our command climate and making sure that we have healthy command climates at all of our installations worldwide. And to do that we're doing a few different things. First of all, we have the ‘this is my squad’ philosophy which is really trying to do (intercom noise) making sure that our soldiers are looking after each other, that our leaders are looking after our soldiers and trying to connect soldiers, leaders and families. We also have our cohesion assessment teams, which we are essentially flying out to installations where either a commander has asked for the team or where we have concerns that there could be an issue with the command climate. We've done several of those this year, and we're going to have the capacity to have 12 cohesion assessment teams annually, so that will be an important tool. We have our [Defense Organizational Climate Survey] (DEOCS) command climate surveys that are helping us as well. And we have, as I said in my speech, you know, hired a civilian director for CID and we're moving to have 60% of our special agents be civilian, which will mean that we'll have deeper investigative expertise at our installations because we won't have such a large percentage of our agents, you know, moving from assignment to assignment. We will be able to have people who are deeply specialized to complement our military CID agents. So that's all there as well as the Fusion Directorate.

There's more to be done. Don't get me wrong. I think, you know, we have to make sure that we don't take our eyes off this ball. This is something we're going to have to focus on year after year after year. It can’t just be sort of a cycle of crisis to complacency.

Col. Wilkinson: Okay, Jen Judson.

Jen Judson: Secretary Wormuth, you mentioned in your speech today or focused in your speech on some analysis that will be across the board that you have ongoing to look at things from readiness to modernization. So I wanted a sense of what is on the table? What is not on the table? Are you considering the potential of reducing end strength for instance?

Secretary Wormuth: We are looking at, as I said in my speech, everything that we do and everything about how we do it. So, we're looking at, you know, how can we be innovative. How can we do more with what we have. What kinds of force structure do we need to make sure that we’re relevant for the future war fight. What that mix needs to be. What are the kinds of capabilities that that force structure needs to be effective. So, I think it's fair to say we are, we are looking at everything. But it is essential that we transform for the future, and the modernization program that we've embarked on is a critical piece of that transformation. As General McConville says frequently, this is the most ambitious modernization the Army has undertaken in four decades and that set of modernization priorities is incredibly important. So we will certainly be looking to protect that because it's so core to what we're doing.

Col. Wilkinson: Haley.

Haley Britzky: Thank you. Haley Britzky with Task and Purpose. Madam Secretary, you spoke about this in your comments, but a lot of the ‘this is my squad’ and ‘people first’ is looking at the installations, looking at that command climate, (inaudible) units, but in recent weeks we've seen news that the head of OCPA which works in the Pentagon with all of you may not have been abiding by that kind of thinking, about command climate. Is there any concern, you know, that some of these leaders who have been in the Army for a long time may be having a hard time adjusting to this, you know, sort of ‘people first’ way of prioritizing things? And do you feel that you as senior leaders should be looking more at those higher strong leaders and making sure that they're abiding by the ‘people first’ mentality, as well as the lower echelon leaders?

Secretary Wormuth: Well Haley, I don't want to comment on an ongoing investigation, but more broadly, you know, here's what I would say. It is critical that we be looking at the ability of our more senior leaders to have healthy command climates. We are trying to do that in a number of different ways. You know, again with [Battalion Command Assessment Program] (BCAP) and the [Colonels Command Assessment Program] (CCAP), we are exclusively looking at a potential leader’s past performance in terms of climate. Part of the psychological evaluations that are part of those programs allow us to look at essentially at, you know, to screen out toxic leaders, if you will, and I think as we've been running that program we've been able to use that effectively to help us do that. So, I think that will be something that's going to be a really important tool for us going forward. And the DEOCs surveys are also a very valuable tool in terms of helping us understand when some of our, you know, one or two star generals may have some challenges and may need some coaching there. So we're trying to leverage that to help us find where we have trouble spots.

Sgt. Maj. Grinston: And Madam Secretary, if you don’t mind, really quickly on that, is that for the Sergeant Majors at the Brigade level we will have, it will be a binding assessment that will go through. And during that they do the enlisted leader evaluation tool where we look at some of those things that we may not have looked at in the past. So we're working at it from (inaudible) to the squad, and we are also holding those leaders accountable. They have to go through the assessment before they will be a brigade CSM, and that will be binding and that starts in November. That's one of those ways we're looking at, not just, you know, (inaudible).

Hi Garrett Reim with FlightGlobal. My question is about mobility in the Pacific? Does the Army field it has enough transports to move its troops around the Pacific? Obviously, you rely a lot on the Air Force and the Navy for that. Are you looking at ways to increase your capacity to hop around the Pacific?

Secretary Wormuth: I'll say a couple of things and then General McConville may want to add. As I said in my speech, you know, the vast distances of the Indo-Pacific theater are definitely a challenge. Logistics and sustainment are something that we're, we have been looking at hard at, and I think that we will have to continue looking hard at. You know, for example, I've had some retired Generals raise concerns to me about the number of watercraft that we have, for example, and having been able to go out to Hawaii and see one of our watercrafts and what they are capable of doing, you know that's a really important capability. The Army has had the responsibility to do the joint concept for contested logistics, and through that kind of a project we are looking hard at what our capabilities are and whether we have enough for what we need to do.

Gen. McConville: I will just add that speed and range really matter. If you take a look at where some of our modernization priorities are future long range assault aircraft that flies much faster and much further. (inaudible) the idea of watercraft and how we will still have to move around the Pacific. Are you going to move by air or are you going to move by sea (inaudible) kind of makes sense? We need to have those capabilities and we need to have those capabilities in the contested environment and that's where a lot of those systems. We can take a look at long-range precision fires. And so, that's why the speed and range is there because you're going to have to engage targets at significant range and significant speed. And the other thing about speed is speed is just not about the individual weapon system. It's really about the convergence of multiple systems. If you can make decisions faster based on sensors and shooters, you actually get much quicker speed in the actual weapon system itself. So all of those things are part of Project Convergence. All of those are part of the decision dominance. And that's what we think will give us the overmatch we need to support the Joint Force.

Hi, Ashley Roque with Janes. I just wanted to drill down a bit more about the analysis of modernization. Madam Secretary, you have been very forthcoming that you support the modernization, but you also caution that you might need to take a look at certain programs. Could you sort of elaborate on what that looks like and sort of the timeline? What questions are you dealing with right now? And maybe sort of how that changed from the previous administration? And sort of, what are sort of the timetables and questions you have going forward to look at the budgets and where things stand?

Secretary Wormuth: So I'm not going to say very much about the analysis right now because it's pre-decisional, but, you know, we are again looking at... some of the fundamental questions that I raised in my speech which is, you know, how are we going to fight, which theaters do we need to be really focused on, what capabilities do we need. And we're going to use analysis to help us look at those kinds of questions. I think, obviously, we're also going to be looking at things like the performance of the new programs that we have in development. Are they staying on schedule? Are they coming in at the cost that we expect them to be at. You know, when we look at scaling up some of these programs that are just prototypes right now, what does that mean in terms of affordability. So, I think this will be something that will be iterative. You know, we get the pleasure of building a POM every single year so there will be opportunities each year to sort of inject the insights that we're getting from our analysis to help General McConville, and I make good decisions about the overall program.

Hi Caitlyn Kenny with Defense One. In your speech you talked about some of the roadblocks internally, about, you know, meeting the challenge, trying to be creative and maybe skepticism to new thinking. Is there any way within the Army that soldiers can contribute their ideas and opinions to, you know, some of the ways that you guys can face these future challenges - regardless of rank, where they are, you know, within the Army (inaudible)?

Secretary Wormuth: That's a great question. And I want to say, you know, I know the Chief and I absolutely welcome input from the field - you know, from soldiers, from NCOs. We want good ideas. And I think there's a variety of different ways to get that to us. But, you know, one thing I would highlight, for example, is with 18th Airborne Corps they have a program, I forget exactly what General Kurilla called it, but it’s essentially like a shark tank-like competition to basically allow soldiers to submit ideas and sort of compete and pick the most creative ones, and that's been really successful. So, I think building on that kind of an initiative is a very smart thing for us to be doing.

Gen. McConville: One of the things about really all our modernization programs, 31 plus 4, what we're seeing is we're bringing what we call soldiers touch points much sooner rather than handing off to the acquisition community and they come back a couple of years later with the program. Now, we're working very closely in a collaborative way where soldiers can actually operate the system, get a chance to get on the system. They are bringing in great feedback to the engineers and they were making those changes as we go along, finding that we're getting much better results from having the soldiers involved all along the way.

Hi Matt Beinart from Defense Daily. So following up a bit on the analysis piece and looking at how the modernization programs are performing, at the (inaudible) of this budget cycle we heard, you know, a lot of the talk about the low-hanging fruit in terms of pulling off some of those funds to shift, fully funding modernization was getting tougher, choices were getting tougher. Is there more consideration being given to stretching out some of the schedules of the 31 plus 4 signature systems in order to save those funds that you maybe aren't being able to get with all the low-hanging fruit being picked off from divestiture decisions? Thanks.

Secretary Wormuth: I think, you know, first of all, we're going to want to see how the budget picture shakes out. You know, we haven't seen obviously the final number that we’re going to get this year from Congress. And again, you know, every year we sort of have another chance to sort of look at these kinds of issues. But I think certainly we would be looking at, you know, the possibility of the schedule of different programs as a way that that might be something that gives us flexibility. I also want to emphasize that, you know, we're looking at everything and we have to look at everything. So it's not just modernization, but we have to look at our infrastructure. And you know, where can we generate efficiencies there. We have to look at things like Readiness. You know, how are we, you know, how are we defining what Readiness is, how are we executing our Readiness. You know, a good example of a way that we're able to generate some efficiencies on Readiness has been with are exportable training rotations - you know, the ones that we will be in Alaska and Hawaii, for example, and that offers some savings for us in addition to allowing the units to train in the environment where they would be operating - whether it's more of a jungle kind of environment in Hawaii or to be able to test the cold weather equipment in Alaska, for example.

Ellen Milhiser: Hi, Ellen Milhiser, Synopsis. As you look at reorganizing the Army, Army medicine has had the lion's share of the military's medical research and it's now been moved into Futures Command. And Congress wants it moved over to the Defense Health Agency. The Army has been fighting that traditionally. Do you see the Army going ahead and giving military medical research as part of this reorganization?

Secretary Wormuth: Well, we certainly think that there are some, that some of what we're doing, you know, in terms of medical research is really important to us from sort of a combat perspective and that has been part of our argument for keeping some of those capabilities in the Army in Futures Command. If I'm not mistaken, I think there is language, I believe, that was in the house bill that allows this issue to be an item in conference. And so, we'll see again where that comes out, but certainly our perspective is that there are some things in our medical domain that would be, we think, preferable to keep with the Army.

Davis Winkie: Davis Winkie, Army Times. So, you know, we see a lot of talk about creating a multi domain fighting force, including cyber domain, but we're seeing some of the Army's IT modernization projects falter. We saw the failed rollout of Army IgnitED. We've seen a new delay in the IPPS-A launch and there's been issues with DFAS where, you know, soldiers don't know how much leave they have. What kind of oversight and accountability are there for these projects, and you know, how can you help soldiers have faith that they're going to be, you know, the Cyber domain has their back when they're out there in the field when say they can’t even foolproof get their tuition assistance that many of them joined for?

Secretary Wormuth: It's nice to see you in person, Davis. It’s always nice to put a face with a voice. So we have had some challenges. We did have some challenges with the online tuition in the Ignite, and frankly, it's in part because of that experience and the lessons learned from that experience that when we looked at where [The Integrated Personnel and Pay System – Army] (IPPS-A) was we made the decision that it was better to delay the rollout of that so that we can make absolutely sure that the system was going to work when it actually does go live. And this is something, you know, we're trying to have a lot of oversight of these efforts. We have senior leaders in both Army commands and in the Secretariat who are responsible for these programs and who are looking at these programs. We really want to make sure that when IPPS-A goes out that it will work well, but I think we are also trying, you know, like with the situation that we had with the tuition to try to develop some workarounds in real time so that soldiers can get assistance and are able to get reimbursement. And so we're certainly always going to want to try to make sure if there's a problem with one of our systems that we find ways to give soldiers some mitigation.

Gen. McConville: The Integrated Personnel Pay System - IPPS-A if you like to call it, that is a transformational system that we absolutely have to have in the Army so we can move from an industrial age system to a 21st century talent management system which we need. As you know, it’s in the Guard right now and it’s functioning very, very well in the Guard. As the Secretary said, we took the lessons learned and made sure that this system is absolutely ready to go. It is being overseen by the Acting Under Secretary and the Vice Chief - it’s got the highest levels of myself and the Secretary routinely take briefs on the Integrated Personnel Pay System, and we’re going to make sure it’s done successfully and even as we start to field that system we are going to have pauses along the way to make sure it's absolutely working, which is a little different than we did in the tuition assistant system. You know, when you go to a new system we want to make sure that the system fully works before we give it to soldiers.

Sgt. Maj. Grinston: Yeah, we definitely had a lot of learns from IgnitED, but I do want to highlight a couple things we have…our soldiers, we talked a little bit about it, the things we're doing now, look at we're having the Software Factory - we’ve talked about innovation all the way so at the Software Factory we have soldiers that already are experts at coding. And when you look at systems, if you don't have the experts in a soldier touch point when you get to the coding, you know, we need to know what we're looking at when we look at that coding. So it's actually good news that we are trying to have…. when we have the soldier touch points we have the soldiers in our formations, and the Software Factor is building with the soldiers so that they can go in when we get these high tech situations that we have soldiers that are in the formations that we can say, hey, here's the soldiers touch point and (inaudible) from a soldier’s perspective and make sure we get it right.

Col. Wilkinson: Okay, we have time for one last question.

Hi, I’m Meredith Roaten from National Defense Magazine. I wanted to ask about the appropriations process. It's clear that a continuing resolution will be problematic across the Pentagon. Would it be possible for you to touch on how that would impact the Army and if there are any programs in particular that you would be concerned about?

Secretary Wormuth: Sure. Sadly, we’ve become all too familiar with continuing resolutions and the necessity of operating in that kind of a budgetary environment, but it's definitely not our preference. I think, you know, where CRs are problematic for a few reasons. You know, fundamentally, they're disruptive and inefficient, and I think one of the biggest problems with the CRs is that we are prohibited from having new starts in our, in our budget. Now, you know, we can through anomalies seek relief in certain very targeted areas, and we will do that if necessary, but it also is a problem for us in terms of recruiting and retention. Some of the special pays and bonuses and other kinds of incentives can be disrupted by a continuing resolution. So those are just, I would say, a few examples of the kinds of challenges that we can have, and we have looked at, you know, there are a few different programs in our monetization portfolio that could potentially be disrupted. But, like I said, we can seek some targeted release through that through an anomaly request.

Col. Wilkinson: Okay, thank you very much for coming. Do any of you have any closing comments?


Secretary Wormuth: Thanks everyone for being here, appreciate it.

Gen. McConville: Just on the budget, timely, adequate, predictable, and sustainable funding is really important for the whole enterprise to be able to meet its priorities as we go forward (inaudible).

Co. Wilkinson: Thank you all for coming.