Secretary of the Army Opening Remarks at AUSA 2023

By Brandy MejiaOctober 9, 2023

Secretary of the U.S. Army Christine E. Wormuth addresses the audience during the Opening Ceremony for the AUSA 2023 Annual Meeting and Exposition in the Ballroom of the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington, D.C., Oct. 9, 2023.  The event was hosted by Military District of Washington.  (U.S. Army photo by Christopher Kaufmann)
Secretary of the U.S. Army Christine E. Wormuth addresses the audience during the Opening Ceremony for the AUSA 2023 Annual Meeting and Exposition in the Ballroom of the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington, D.C., Oct. 9, 2023. The event was hosted by Military District of Washington. (U.S. Army photo by Christopher Kaufmann) (Photo Credit: Christopher Kaufmann) VIEW ORIGINAL

Thank you so much for that kind introduction, General Brown.

Good morning, everyone. I am so happy to be here and to see the Army’s best friends and supporters in this audience.

I want to give a special shout-out to all of those who have been working overtime behind the scenes to make this meeting happen.

On top of all the usual frenetic preparations, you had to figure out whether the Army could even participate in this meeting during a government shutdown. I know we are all grateful that didn’t happen.

This is my third year at AUSA, but this year stands out because this morning I’m joined by the recently confirmed 41st Chief of Staff of the Army, General Randy George, and our new Sergeant Major of the Army, Mike Weimer.

It is no surprise that Sergeant Major Weimer hit the ground running, motivating leaders and soldiers to reinvigorate their focus on warfighting. The core skills he mastered as part of the special operations community – working with ingenuity and initiative in high-stakes environments – will serve him well in his role as the SMA.

And General George and I have already built a close working relationship this past year while he was serving as our Vice Chief. I look forward to building on that foundation and leading our Army together as a united team. I could not be happier to get to work with him and SMA Weimer every day.

Please join me in congratulating them on their new and well-earned roles.

Although I was pleased that the Senate overwhelmingly confirmed General George last month, I am keenly aware that there are 150 other Army general officers whose nominations are stalled because of the blanket hold that is still in place.

This hold is hurting our military readiness and causing needless uncertainty for those officers and their families. It is also a discouraging signal for our talented junior and field grade officers as they contemplate their future as senior Army leaders.

It is long past time for the hold to end and for our exceptional nominees to be confirmed.

And just as I hope that the Senate will confirm our nominees, I also hope that our partners in Congress can work together to provide more budget certainty for the Army and the rest of the Department of Defense by passing a full-year appropriations bill. Under a short-term continuing resolution, we face a host of challenges, and we are still confronting the possibility of another lapse of appropriations in mid-November.

These issues can be distracting and time-consuming for those of us in Washington. But I am proud to say that through all of this, from Fort Liberty to Poland, from Fort Irwin to Korea our soldiers in all components remain focused on mastering their warfighting skills, building relationships with our partners and allies, deterring adversaries, and defending our nation.

Over the past year, I have seen first-hand the dedication and focus our soldiers bring to their work.

I saw it at Fort Riley, where I visited a 1st Infantry Division command post manned by American and Estonian soldiers who were preparing for a combined division warfighter exercise that will ensure we will remain ready to defend NATO’s borders.

I saw it in Guam, where I visited with our THAAD battery and the air defenders who serve as the first line of homeland defense within the Pacific theater.

I saw it at Fort Johnson, where paratroopers from the 82nd Airborne Division tested their mettle against the JRTC OPFOR.

And I saw it in Northern Australia, where thousands of soldiers participated in exercise Talisman Sabre alongside our Australian allies and 11 other partners and allies in a massive display of shared resolve and commitment to continued stability and security in the Indo-Pacific.

That resolve is equally on display in other regions of the world. Earlier this year, soldiers deployed in the CENTCOM AOR participated in Juniper Oak 2023, the largest ever joint exercise between the United States and Israel.

These exercises are tangible evidence of our unwavering commitment to Israel’s security. And in the wake of last weekend’s horrific attacks by Hamas, the entire Department of Defense has made clear that our support for the Israeli Defense Forces and the Israeli people is ironclad.

In Europe and back here at home, our soldiers are providing the Ukrainian armed forces with the training and knowledge to carry on the counteroffensive. We have sent major combat systems and munitions to Ukraine, including 31 Abrams tanks, 186 Bradley fighting vehicles, hundreds of Humvees, MRAPs, and other combat vehicles, and over two million artillery munitions.

The work our troops and industry partners are doing to support Ukraine is vital to maintaining deterrence.

Our support of Ukraine’s national sovereignty is directly in our national interest. It weakens Russia’s military, it strengthens deterrence in other regions, and it builds our national industrial base. Our support for Ukraine is also critical to our own military readiness. We need the support of Congress to replenish critical stockpiles of munitions and equipment.

We also need the support of Congress as we work hard to improve the quality of life for our soldiers and families.

We continue to increase spouse employment options and access to healthcare for our families. We have extended our parental leave policies to include 12 weeks of paid leave for our new parents, we’ve increased our childcare capacity, and increased compensation for our childcare workers.

And we remain committed to making improvements to living conditions for our soldiers and families.

I visited Fort Johnson and Fort Riley and saw new and improved barracks for our single soldiers. At Fort Leonard Wood I visited families in their homes. At each of these installations, I saw how garrison commands have reduced work order times and are striving to address repairs quickly and effectively.

But even with these improvements, there is still so much that we need to do to address the quality of our aging barracks. We are working to improve barracks oversight at every post and with every garrison commander, because this isn’t just a quality of life issue – this is a readiness issue for the Army.

We spend over $1 billion annually on barracks, but the reality is that as the service with the largest barracks inventory, we are digging ourselves out of a $6.5 billion maintenance backlog. As we look ahead to next year’s budget, we are working on ways to provide for 100% sustainment funding for barracks and to spend more on renovation and construction. But we need Congress to continue to work with us to make this a long-term investment priority.

And just as we are investing in quality of life for our soldiers to ensure the readiness of our force, we must also invest in the capabilities our soldiers need to fight and win our nation’s wars.

This brings me to the challenging – and evolving – security environment.

It is no secret that we have transitioned from an era defined by a Global War on Terror to one defined by strategic competition. We see how much the landscape is shifting, punctuated by geopolitical, technological, economic, and environmental upheaval.

An aggressive Russia disregards international laws and violates the sovereign boundaries of Ukraine, destroying lives and displacing millions. China continues to develop and test advanced weapons that threaten our allies and partners in the region as well as the United States homeland. Rapid advancements in technologies, from artificial intelligence to unmanned platforms, have the potential to change the character of war.

We also face challenges at home. Budgets have been flat and uncertain, with continuing resolutions and government shutdowns hurting our ability to plan. The recruiting environment continues to be difficult, putting further stress on our formations.

Looking back, the Army has faced similar times before in its history. At the beginning of the 20th Century, the Army was also a volunteer force, struggling to reform in a budget-constrained environment, with rising tensions between great powers across the globe.

As the rest of the world entered World War I, the United States was behind – in mobilization, technology, doctrine, and structure. American troops relied on their French and British allies for both modern equipment, like tanks and planes, and the techniques for using them.

When the war ended, forward-thinking Army leaders knew that peacetime demanded continued innovation and investment for the future. And when the nation did find itself at war again twenty-three years later, these investments would enable the United States Army to play a central role in the liberation of Europe and the Pacific.

The things that made a difference back then – the rapid mobilization of industry, the openness to innovation and experimentation, structural transformation, and doctrinal overhaul – are all things that we must focus on today to be successful on future battlefields. We cannot afford to wait until the next conflict is clearly visible.

So here’s the message I want to share with you today: this is a crucial moment for the Army to summon our ingenuity. To innovate and invest in emerging technologies. To test and develop in uncharted areas like artificial intelligence and contested domains like space and cyber. To reshape and transform the force to be more adaptable and flexible.

We have got to ask the tough questions and make the hard decisions on what our force needs to fight in the future.

We must continue to embrace innovation and transformation or risk failing to address future threats.

And we should remember a warning that this year’s AUSA Marshall Award winner, Retired General Eric Shinseki, once delivered: “If you don’t like change, you are going to like irrelevance even less.”

The good news for our Army is that across the force, I see us embracing change, looking to the future, and becoming the more modern, more lethal, and more adaptive force we need to be.

In close partnership with industry, the Army has pressed ahead and stayed on track to implement our most ambitious modernization effort in 40 years.

In the past year we moved dozens of systems into advanced prototyping, production, or fielding. This steady process shows we can and will succeed on critical modernization programs.

With the introduction of each new system, we continue to increase our force’s capability to respond to various threats and serve as a credible deterrent to our adversaries.

A prime example of this was our introduction of Mid-Range Capability to units at Joint Base Lewis-McCord. We successfully tested this system with both SM-6 interceptors and Tomahawk cruise missiles, giving the Army the ability to strike ships from land, a capability well-suited for a variety of threats in the Indo-Pacific.

We are also continuing to develop our long-range hypersonic capabilities. We have already delivered the first battery of Long-Range Hypersonic Weapon ground support equipment and are aggressively pursuing the testing and fielding of the complete system. This is a top modernization priority for the Army and the entire Department of Defense.

In the field of emerging technologies, we conducted extensive testing of the Directed Energy M-SHORAD, a short-range air defense capability mounted on a Stryker designed to defeat unmanned aircraft and indirect fires with a 50-kilowatt laser. As small unmanned systems increase in number and decrease in cost, we must have this capability to defend our formations against what will soon be one of the most common threats on the battlefield.

We continue to research and develop innovative new capabilities that will maintain our asymmetric advantage. Robotics is one example. This year, the Army started fielding our first robots outside the EOD community, the Small Multipurpose Equipment Transport. We have an even larger system coming soon, the Robotic Combat Vehicle that is designed to carry weapons, sensors, and even other robots.

To figure out how robots and soldiers will work together on the battlefield we are beginning a new Human-Machine Integrated Formations initiative.

These integrated formations will bring robotic systems into units alongside humans, with the goal of always having robots, not soldiers, make first contact with the enemy. This will shift some of the work onto robots so that soldiers can do what only humans can: make values-based decisions, accept risk, and practice the art of command.

This is just one example of the innovations our Army is exploring as we look ahead to the future. New systems and technologies, paired with a robust digital transformation, incorporation of autonomy, AI, machine learning, and advanced computing, will all contribute to the transformation of today’s force into the Army of the future.

As we pursue the most significant modernization effort in generations, we are building an Army that can dominate in large-scale multi-domain operations. Building this Army also requires transforming our force structure to ensure that we have the capabilities we need to meet current and future strategic requirements.

We need to align structure with endstrength over the next several years to ensure we can field the right formations and ensure they are properly manned, trained, and able to deliver lethal results. This transformation must take place, and we look forward to briefing Congress right after AUSA.

To man the formations of the future, we need to recruit the right people today– a task unique to an all-volunteer force and one that has grown more difficult in recent years. But this vital mission is yet another area where the Army is innovating and transforming.

All across the Army, from the Soldier Referral Program to the Future Soldier Prep Course, we worked tirelessly over the past year to improve our recruiting and accessions process.

We worked with local communities to host events. We unveiled the “Be All You Can Be” campaign across the country. We surged medical personnel to processing stations and streamlined the medical review process.

And we did see an improvement. We ended the fiscal year with 55,000 recruiting contracts, including 4,600 for our Delayed Entry Program that will ship in FY24. This is a huge testament to the work done by recruiters nationwide, USAREC, TRADOC, and AEMO leadership, and thousands of hours of work from the Army staff and subordinate commands.

But we realized some months ago that this would not be enough. The competition for talented Americans is fierce and fundamentally different from 50 or even 20 years ago. Understanding this reality is key to transforming how we recruit and demonstrating that the Army is a compelling choice for young Americans.

To develop that understanding, we established a study team to undertake a “clean sheet” examination of the Army’s recruiting challenges and practices.

The mandate from us was straightforward: identify not just the symptoms of our challenges, but their root causes, and then come back and recommend solutions.

Based on the team’s excellent work and after discussion and debate at senior levels, we announced last week a set of decisions that we believe will transform the Army recruiting enterprise and position us to start building back our endstrength.

Simply put, we are changing who we recruit, how we recruit them, and who we recruit them with.

We are going to broaden our prospect pool to include more of the available labor force.

We are going to transition from a “borrowed” workforce model to a permanent specialized recruiter workforce – much like those used by Fortune 500 companies today.

We are going to elevate Recruiting Command to report directly to me and General George. The Commanding General will serve a four-year tenure to lead and deliver results. And USAREC will be given new capabilities and capacity to experiment, learn, and implement change.

As we marked the 50th anniversary of the All-Volunteer Force earlier this year, there has been a lot of talk about declining military propensity, declining eligibility, and declining familiarity with the military as factors behind the current recruiting crisis.

There’s no doubt that these problems are real and that our broader society should be mobilizing to address them.

But the Army can’t wait for that to happen. We need to take charge of our own destiny and address those things now that we can do better and differently ourselves to meet our recruiting mission and attract the best possible talent to our Army.

That is what the decisions we made are all about. We have to innovate and transform in recruiting, but also in warfighting concepts and modernization, or risk irrelevance.

And the United States Army cannot and will not be irrelevant. I am confident that what we are doing today and in the years ahead will ensure that we remain the greatest land fighting force in the world.

Since we were last here together, our Army has accomplished so much. We have been challenged, but we have been determined.

Our soldiers and civilians have set the bar for technical and tactical competence and expertise. Our officers, warrant officers, and NCOs continue to lead with professionalism and discipline. Our research and development teams continue to explore new technologies and concepts for the future of land warfare. And we continue to adapt to the changing environment, from recruiting to hypersonics.

We have the experience of two decades of conflict behind us, and we are rapidly moving ahead, mindful that this is a time that we can use to either innovate or our future or lose the momentum and the edge that we have as the most lethal land force in the world.

The investments we make today, from improving soldier quality of life to developing new, advanced weapons, will all contribute to our future success.

Alongside General George and SMA Weimer, I am proud to lead this Army, to recognize all of its accomplishments over the last year and all of the work that is being done today to secure our future. I am proud of our soldiers, civilians, families, and soldiers-for-life for all they do and will continue to do to keep our Army the best in the world. And I am thankful for the communities and government and industry partners who support us in our mission each and every day.

All of these people are helping us, the Army, to Be All We Can Be: to push the envelope of innovation, to realize each soldier’s individual potential, to overcome challenges, and to look to the future.

Thank you for supporting the Army – your Army – as we defend this nation.