LEXINGTON, Va. -- As the nation's current conflicts persist, the outcome is uncertain. But the role of the Army remains the same - produce and train a tactical and adaptable fighting force to sustain our nation's freedoms, the secretary of the Army told the nation's top Army ROTC Cadets Wednesday, during the annual George C. Marshall seminar.

Speaking at Lee Chapel on the campus of Washington and Lee University, John McHugh detailed complex issues facing the Army today. Among them are training, development, sustaining the force and staying within budget while accomplishing all requirements remain relevant to Cadets who are about to enter the force.

Going to bat for Soldiers, Department of Army civilians and their family members is what McHugh is prepared to do during his tenure.

"This may sound like something you've all heard before," McHugh said, "but we have to understand that we are an Army in transition, and Army transformation is a continuing process involving recruitment of future generations of adaptable leaders who can think critically, train tactically and confidently perform with innovation and competence in complex environments. That is our best defense against an uncertain future."

Transforming an institutional force, McHugh said, involves a series of capability portfolio reviews that take a systemic and systematic look at everything the Army does by class and function, ranging from missile programs and tactical vehicle fleets, to the civilian workforce and beyond.

The process provides a critical review of each program requirement, the costs involved, and exploration of innovative ways to get the job done. While all programs are evaluated, some are modified, and in many cases, McHugh said, some are terminated.

"We want to do everything to responsibly ensure our top priorities, ranging from research, development, life-cycle sustainment, acquisition, force structure improvement and training," said McHugh. "We've recently completed a holistic review of our acquisition process. We are making smarter and quicker acquisitions of material and equipment at the best quality and price."

The review process, McHugh said, is critical to the force as fewer dollars are available for procuring and sustaining modern resources. Furthermore, as the Army continues to evolve tactically, the need for innovation is at its greatest.

"Over the past nine years through two conflicts in two theaters, the operational Army at the tip of the spear has changed ever so dramatically," he said. "Each day, the Army continues to morph as new threats arise. We have to be as equally adept and equally flexible in our institutions and practices from personnel, to training, to development, to materiel assistance."

"And, we have to be able to structure it in a format that accommodates you, as officers and leaders, in order to help you reach your goals and realize your objectives as an officer, and as a profession," McHugh continued.

Adaptability is key to an Army in transition as new leaders emerge, who are driven by ideas and innovation to help ensure a successful Army transformation for generations to come. Therefore, McHugh said, lifelong leader development, educational opportunities and career satisfaction will help keep young leaders engaged in the fight.

"You are exactly the kinds of leaders we need to win conflicts and prepare for an uncertain future," he said. "Our young officers serving in Iraq and Afghanistan have responded brilliantly to complex challenges. All those who have gone before you, we are confident in your training, knowledge and skills that you are poised to go forward and follow in their footsteps."

During the two-day conference, participants are heralded for their potential. But the praise comes with a dose of reality: Their job won't be easy.

McHugh was a guest speaker at the annual George C. Marshall Awards and Leadership Seminar, which ran from Sunday to Tuesday on the campuses of Washington and Lee and the Virginia Military Institute, and is organized by the George C. Marshall Foundation.

Organizers design the event around the principles of leadership practiced by the late George C. Marshall, a former general of the Army, U.S. secretary of state and Nobel prize-winner. For cadets looking for someone to emulate, they point to Marshall as a pattern.