FORT LEAVENWORTH, Kan., June 24, 2011 -- Secretary of the Army John McHugh discussed Army topics with 50 students from the Army’s School of Advanced Military Studies, Command and General Staff School, and Army Management Staff College here today.

McHugh began by telling the assembled students they are the future of the Army and it is up to them to instill in their Soldiers the values and traditions that make our Army special. He then challenged the students to consider how the Army nurtures young officers in ways that moves them forward and encourages them to stay in the Army.

He related he recently visited a forward operating base and met a captain and a lieutenant engaging village elders, considering how to establish a local police force, and participating in high-level meetings with elders of surrounding villages. Those activities would have been the responsibility of senior officers in the past.

According to McHugh the challenge is how to keep junior officers who have exercised the authority, responsibility and flexibility needed in those situations actively engaged in an Army that is approaching the end of hostilities.

Following the secretary’s opening remarks students responded with suggestions and questions. Student thoughts about retaining officers through the post-hostility transition included additional training with industry and educational opportunities, and the desire to lead Soldiers vice serving in staff positions.

Students were also concerned about fixing the frustrations of the medical discharge system, long-term security for officers, training for multinational and inter-agency operations, developing and exercising critical thinking skills earlier in an officer’s career, taking care of families, and retaining the right people.

Secretary McHugh responded that many of these issues have received much thought as the Army leadership prepares for the upcoming transition. He said Army leadership understands that the value of additional opportunities such as training with industry and higher level education would have to be factored into the promotion system to ensure the value of diverse experiences is recognized.

He also said he understands the desire for officers to lead but, given the limited number of leadership positions and the need for officers in other positions, some officers must serve in non-leadership roles. However, he added that within that framework the Army cannot slap officers with peacetime Army rules that suffocate them.

McHugh said the medical discharge system must be fixed as it now takes an average of more than 400 days to medically discharge a Soldier. This frustrates the Soldiers in the system and adds to the burden on medical resources.

He also said the Army recognizes the importance of taking care of Army families. McHugh said since 2007 the Army has doubled spending on family programs. He continued the Army is evaluating those programs to ensure they are what Soldiers and their families want and they help the Army meet is “moral obligation” to take care of families.

The secretary pointed out that after every war the Army has downsized. Previous across-the-board percentage cuts had the effect of hollowing out the force. McHugh said that is not the way to handle downsizing.

He said Army leaders are working on ways to create a force that is resourced and balanced. That force must retain the right people and it needs to have the ability to surge as conditions demand. McHugh emphasized that in order to retain the right people the Army is looking at how to implement a 360-degree evaluation model and considering how discontinuous service could be incorporated without hurting an officer’s opportunities for promotion and service to retirement.

The secretary was asked about Army use of alternative energy sources. He said the Army is working hard to field such systems and pointed to the Technology Village at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, as an example of Army initiatives. However, he acknowledged that an Army at war is focused on Soldier protection issues.

One student expressed concern with the apparent disengagement of most civilians with the military. McHugh noted the Army’s initiatives to bridge this gap, including public affairs and Civilian Aides to the Secretary of the Army programs.

He also cautioned against military personnel thinking of themselves as apart from the population at large.