AUSA 2021: Secretary of the Army’s Keynote Speech 11 October 2021

By Dontavian HarrisonOctober 14, 2021


Secretary of the Army, Christine E. Wormuth

Thank you. Before I say anything, I want to express my deepest condolences to Linda Odierno and the entire Odierno family. GEN Odierno was a warrior, a larger than life figure, and he led the Army through some of its most challenging times. I cannot say enough to express my sadness, but we are so incredibly grateful for the legacy he leaves behind, inspiring so many of the leaders we have with us today.

I would also like to thank General Carter Ham for his five years of service as AUSA’s president, and before that for his nearly 38 years of service to the Army and the nation, culminating in his outstanding leadership of AFRICOM. I was lucky enough to work with General Ham, and he has been an invaluable source of counsel. Please join me in thanking him for his great service to AUSA. (Applause)

Carter, thank you for everything you’ve done for our Army, and my best wishes to you and Christi – I hear you are already hard at work on your “honey do” list.

Congratulations to General Bob Brown, our new AUSA President and CEO! Bob also served in uniform with distinction for 38 years - I can’t thank you enough in advance for everything I know you are going to do for the country and for the Army. (Applause)

Now every year is a busy year for our Army, but this year was pretty extraordinary. The Army hasn’t just been maintaining readiness and operating in over 140 countries. It’s also been crucial to helping our country fight the deadliest pandemic in American history.

The Army helped provide the backbone of Operation Warp Speed, which facilitated the development of today’s safe and effective COVID vaccines. Army nurses, doctors, and other medical professionals raced to care for Americans across the country in the early days of the pandemic. The Army National Guard responded in communities all around the nation. I‘m incredibly proud. As Secretary Austin said recently at West Point, we are facing extraordinary circumstances.

But extraordinary circumstances are what the Army does. The Army has answered the call in many ways. This year the Army National Guard provided thousands of soldiers to help secure the Capitol after the January 6 insurrection.

Army soldiers are working with DHS and Customs and Border Patrol on the southwest border.

Extreme weather caused by climate change resulted in Army Soldiers fighting wildfires in the West, aiding Texans without power in an ice storm and helping Gulf states hit hard by hurricanes.

The Army made history too. Just two months ago, almost 4,000 Army soldiers from the 82nd Airborne, the 10th Mountain Division, the Minnesota National Guard and the special operations community helped secure the Kabul airport. Working hand in hand with Marines and the Air Force, Army soldiers helped to save more than 124,000 American citizens, allies, partners and Afghans who fought for our values for the past 20 years.

(Applause) Absolutely! Let’s hear it for them!

They completed this unprecedented mission under extraordinarily difficult and dangerous conditions. Thirteen American service members made the ultimate sacrifice during this operation, including Army Staff Sergeant Ryan Knauss. It is up to all of us to live up to the courage they showed.

Today, thousands of Army soldiers on five Army installations across the country are working with the Departments of State, Homeland Security and NGOs to help Afghan evacuees start new lives here in America. I visited Fort Bliss just three weeks ago and was amazed to see how quickly the Army had built housing for almost 10,000 Afghan evacuees living there.

Our talented soldiers figured out how to deliver clothing, meals, medical services- and even delivered babies!

What I saw at Fort Bliss was truly the best of America. Big-hearted… like the female soldier I saw hugging and holding a small Afghan child. Welcoming…like the soldiers who were putting together change of clothing kits for new arrivals. Inspiring…like the soldiers I saw helping out in an impromptu classroom full of smiling Afghan children.

I am so proud of our soldiers for reminding us how much we can do when we come together. We’ve got a lot to be proud of, but we also have a lot of work to do.

We are at an inflection point – a key moment in an incredibly consequential argument between the autocrats and those who understand that democracy is the right way to meet the challenges of the 21st century. More than at any other time in my professional life, we are at a strategic crossroads.

The Department of Defense understands that China is the pacing challenge, and that means adapting to a dramatically different security environment from the one we faced when I started working in the Pentagon more than 25 years ago.

When I first walked into the Pentagon as a career civil servant, in the wake of the end of the Cold War, you would hear pundits talking about “Pax Americana” and even “the end of history.” Boy, did they get that wrong.

I had been working on strategy and European issues for six years when Al Qaeda terrorists flew planes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon itself. I came back from my maternity leave into a burning building and just weeks later, we were at war in Afghanistan.

While the United States spent the last 20 years conducting counterinsurgency operations and fighting terrorism, China and Russia went to school on the American way of war. Both China and Russia have steadily modernized their militaries, including building advanced space, cyber, and disinformation capabilities.

In the future, if deterrence fails and either China or Russia makes the strategic mistake of threatening our vital interests with military aggression, we can no longer count on having months to project combat power overseas from an uncontested homeland. Nor can we count on quickly establishing air superiority so that our forces can precisely strike targets with relative impunity. We could even face attacks on the United States itself.

The stakes are high, but we are up to the challenge if we move decisively. I sought this job for a simple reason. I want to make sure that the Army transforms itself to meet these future challenges, and the future is a lot closer than some of us think.

Fortunately, the Army has not been standing still… far from it. We are designing new formations to bring us into the future. We are innovating and experimenting. We are developing new weapons systems so that we remain the world’s premiere land force.

Let me offer a few examples of the shape of tomorrow’s Army.

We now have six Security Force Assistance Brigades. Elements from these units are being deployed in small teams, in multiple countries worldwide.

I met at Fort Bragg with the 2nd SFAB which is aligned to AFRICOM and met at JBLM with the 5th SFAB, aligned to INDOPACOM. They are hard at work building interoperability and strengthening our unrivaled network of alliances and partnerships.

The Multi-Domain Task Force is another new formation that positions us to meet future challenges head on. MDTFs give the Army the ability to deliver synchronized non-kinetic and kinetic effects over long ranges. MDTFs operate across the spectrum from competition to conflict. Elements of the first task force have already been operating in INDOPACOM, participating in exercises such as Defender Pacific. And they bring together cyber, space, and information operations with long range precision fires to disrupt and defeat adversary targets. These task forces can operate from multiple, geographically separate locations, making them harder to find and target, and they will have organic protection and sustainment capabilities.

We are building a culture of innovation and experimentation. This week we are beginning Project Convergence 21, which will bring together participants from the 82nd Airborne, and the 1st MDTF. Project Convergence seeks to learn how the joint force will defeat advanced adversaries in a future high-intensity war fight. This year the Air Force, the Marines, and the Navy will join us down in the dirt, experimenting with more than 100 different technologies.

At our outstanding Army Applications Lab in Austin, our team is forming partnerships with small technology companies, outside the traditional defense industry, and they are solving real-world Army problems, such as increasing the rate of fire of the self-propelled howitzer.

After visiting the Lab a few weeks ago, I stopped by another Austin-based new initiative, our Software Factory. The Software Factory brings together Soldiers across the Army with coding skills, regardless of their MOS or rank, so that they can design problem-solving apps that Soldiers can download on their phones. Make no mistake, data and software will be as important as ammunition on the future battlefield.

We have also substantially transformed how the Army modernizes and develops new weapons systems. We have partnered the Cross Functional Teams with our PEOs to ensure strong connections between our operators and our acquisition professionals, and we have placed soldier-centered design at the heart of the modernization process.

We are working closely with industry and value the degree to which industry has invested its own R&D dollars to ensure the Army succeeds.

This new approach to modernization is already paying off. This year, we’ve put enhanced night vision goggles and IVAS into the hands of Soldiers. We’ve fielded the M-SHORAD. And we’re assessing two prototypes for the new Mobile Protected Fires system.

I’ve seen first-hand so far how much progress we’ve already made.

In fiscal year 22 we will have prototypes of the directed energy M-SHORAD, LTAMDS and the robotic combat vehicle.

We’ll field the next generation squad weapon and our new integrated air and missile defense platform, including its new integrated battle command system. Fiscal year 23 will be the “Year of Long Range Precision Fires” – we’ll see the first battery of the new long-range hypersonic weapon that we’ve developed with the Navy, as well as PrSM, our Mid-Range Capability, and the prototype of the extended range cannon artillery.

I am very proud of what the Army has accomplished, but we have much more work ahead.

The Army has long been the nation’s Swiss Army knife, called upon to respond to any and all unforeseen crises.

We still face an array of challenges – Russia, North Korea, Iran and terrorist groups like ISIS. But one pacing challenge stands out above all – China, and we must transform to meet that challenge.

Change is hard when there is uncertainty about what the future will bring and there are no easy changes to make. I feel this pressure myself, but we can no longer defer the big decisions about how to forge the Army we need for the future. This means thinking even harder about how to deter and, if necessary, to fight high-end adversaries using the capabilities that we already have. It means networking and adapting our existing capabilities in innovative ways even as we invest in new systems. It means upgraded operational concepts drawn from rigorous analysis, study and exercises. It means a realistic understanding of our potential adversaries, their ideologies, their capabilities and the geography where we are most likely to meet them.

So today’s Army must ask hard questions. How would our foes be likely to fight? With what capabilities? For what reasons? What does that mean for the future of land power? What are the implications for the Army of geography in Europe and the Indo-Pacific? And how can the Army best contribute to the Joint war fight?

I’m not convinced that we have fully thought our way through all of the challenges we may face on the future high-end battlefield if deterrence fails. We need to look harder at key cases such as the Nagorno-Karabakh war between Armenia and Azerbaijan. We need to recognize that bureaucratic infighting, attachment to “the way we’ve always done it,” and reflexive skepticism of new ideas can be powerful roadblocks to progress.

So we need to be focused. We need to be strategic. We need to be bold.

The Army must ruthlessly prioritize its efforts to find a sustainable strategic path to transformation. Now, I know some argue that INDOPACOM should be left to the Air Force and Navy or see the Army as primarily a bill payer to make room for more space, cyber and other high-tech capabilities.

But the Army has a crucial role to play as part of a Joint Force that can deter China, Russia and any other foe while defending the homeland.

Of course, that’s harder in a time of downward pressure on the defense budget. So we must face hard choices squarely even as we pursue our transformation agenda.

We’re going to have to look hard at everything we do and everything about how we do it.

To inform these hard decisions, we are conducting analysis right now on key aspects of the Army – our force structure, our readiness, our modernization programs, and our infrastructure, so that we can focus our finite resources on transforming to meet future challenges.

This work will not be easy, but it is needed. Given the challenges ahead, we may have to accept some risk now to avoid greater risk in the future.

But one place where we cannot take risk is in taking care of our people.

The Army is by nature a people-centric service, and our people truly are our most important weapons system. We need to recruit and retain the very best-and to take good care of the outstanding people who wear the Army uniform. We welcome into our ranks any qualified American who wants to serve and who can make the grade, and we are committed to treating everyone with dignity and respect.

We expect a lot from everyone in our Army, and we ask a lot of our families too. So we have a solemn obligation to take care of them as well. As General McConville reminds us - “we are in a war for talent” and he is absolutely right. We are moving from an industrial age approach to managing talent to a digital one. We are selecting our future leaders differently. Instead of choosing future leaders in a few minutes based on a paper personnel file we are doing days of blind interviews to make sure we get these critical selections right. This program has been so successful for Battalion and Brigade Commanders that we are expanding it to help us select Sergeants Major.

Our people deserve quality housing. We know there is more work to do but we are making repairs more quickly, hiring more staff to oversee our housing contracts and working with our housing companies to invest more than a billion dollars of their funds into more renovations and new development. DoD’s recent decision to provide an early increase to BAH in 56 housing markets will help Army families across the country with rising housing and rental costs.

We will build nine new child development centers in the next five years, which will allow us to reduce wait times for child care. We’ve also increased compensation for our child care center workers. And we are making it easier for Army families to provide in-home child care, which will increase our child care capacity and make care more accessible. As a working mom, I know just how important this is.

We have to ensure all our Soldiers can work in an environment free of harassment and discrimination. It’s not just a matter of national principle, it’s a matter of national security.

We’ve also got to remain focused on supporting victims of sexual harassment and sexual assault, and to keep it out of the Army in the first place. To do this, we’re launching a new Fusion Directorate pilot at six active-duty Army installations, which will bring under one roof all of our Army resources – and provide a more victim centered approach to our response efforts.

And pending final action by Congress, we are prepared to establish a new Office of Special Victim Prosecutors. It will be separate from the chain of command and it will report directly to me.

The tragic murder of Vanessa Guillen showed us some things that were badly broken, and we are moving fast to fix them. We are transforming our Criminal Investigative Division. We’ve hired a new deeply experienced civilian director to lead CID and going forward, 60 percent of our CID special agents will be civilian.

But the point isn’t just to respond better to episodes of sexual harassment and sexual assault, it is to stop them from happening in the first place. And that’s on all of us. Every leader has to ensure a command climate in which we take care of Soldiers as if they were members of our own family.

We’ve also got more to do to prevent suicide in our ranks. We’ve got to end the stigma of seeking help. Getting help is a sign of strength, not weakness. I’ve seen a counselor myself during tough times, and I know how helpful they can be. We cannot have a healthy Army unless we take care of our mental health.

Ladies and gentlemen, I am incredibly proud of this institution. Our Army isn’t perfect but we shouldn’t lose sight of its profound importance.

The first thing the Constitution says in Article II, Section 2 is that “The President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States. And I cannot help notice that we got top billing. However, we need to keep earning our place at the top. And in just 4 short months in the job, I have seen how we do that every day.

I saw it in the determination of a female trainee from Nigeria who faced down her fear of the commando crawl on top of Victory Tower at Fort Jackson. I saw it in the excellence of our Army trainers at our jungle academy in Hawaii. I saw it in the unrivaled abilities of our special operation forces at Fort Bragg. And I saw it in the speed with which Army soldiers went back into Afghanistan, doing their jobs under enormous pressure.

We’re not just any Army. We are America’s Army. We’re the Army that defends this remarkable Republic. And we don’t just defend the American people, in so many ways we reflect the American people.

I hope that you are all enormously proud of your service. I know I am. And I’m humbled and honored to have the chance to help write the next chapter of the US Army’s history.

We’ve got big challenges ahead. We are going to have to make hard decisions and follow through with them. But the Army has never shied away from a fight and I know we aren’t about to start now. So let’s roll up our sleeves and get to work.