McHugh pledged his support to the Soldiers and assured them the U.S. stands ready to provide the resources necessary to accomplish the mission.
"I urge you to stay attentive to your mission," McHugh told the "Mustang" troops of 1st Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, "and again, we deeply appreciate all that you do."
The 21st Secretary of the Army used the opportunity "to spend a little time with the Soldiers and hear what's on their minds," prior to a meeting with USD-N leaders to discuss efforts in preparation for U.S. forces' withdrawal from Iraq at the end of 2011.
Before opening the floor to Soldiers for an informal question and answer session, McHugh addressed the current budget deliberations in the nation's capital.
"This is a time of some uncertainty, not just here in Iraq, but back home as well," McHugh said. "Budget challenges -- I can't tell you to the extent at this point, but obviously it's going to have some effect, perhaps some significant effect, on the military and obviously on the Army."
McHugh also assured the troops that he and the Army's newest Chief of Staff, Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, have the Soldiers' best interest at heart and remain committed to the Army and its mission.
"We're working hard with the new Secretary of Defense to ensure that we are taking care of our people and their Families, and keeping our moral and legal commitments to all of you," he explained, "so that even in this time of changing fiscal realities, we maintain the kind of Army all of us are proud of … no matter what the fiscal resources."
McHugh, who served as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, representing the state of New York from January 1993 to September 2009, answered questions about how budget cuts will affect manning, operations and services across the Army.
Capt. Thomas Spolizino, commander of Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Bn., 8th Cav. Regt., asked McHugh how the budget being reduced over the next 10 years would affect troop readiness, manpower and advancement opportunities.
"I think we are going to get smaller," the Secretary of the Army told his audience. "That has happened infrequently in every post-war era you can name, but what the (Chief of Staff of the Army) and I are focused on is doing it right."
McHugh explained that the Army has had more than a year to begin preparing for the budget cuts and plan on doing "more with less."
"There are obvious ways in which we can control the size of the military that doesn't affect people who are currently in uniform, such as accessions …," he said, "but to keep it balanced across the various ranks we may have to change the promotion rates in some of the officer grades and enlistment grades."
"I wish we could give you numbers, but I assure you, we are looking and asking the same kind of questions you are," McHugh added.
McHugh explained to Spolizino and the Soldiers gathered before him that senior military leaders do not know exactly how a reduced budget will affect the organization, and are conducting Total Army Analysis to answer the questions.
"I would rather have a smaller, supremely equipped, trained and cared for force than, as we've had in the past, a force that is really big, but doesn't have anything behind it," he said.
Spolizino, an armor officer who hails from Colonia, N.J., said he is satisfied by the Secretary of the Army's candid answers and appreciated the visit from the Army's most senior civilian leader.
"It's important, because it shows there is still emphasis on what we are doing," Spolizino said. "The way everything is going lately, it can seem like we are forgotten a little bit, and his visit shows us that the Army and our senior leaders are still focused on Iraq and making sure the mission is completed properly, completed responsibly.
"It's a different deployment than we ever had before; it's certainly a hard mission, but the Soldiers are doing it well," he said. "We removed a dictator, and then established a government that can take care of itself in an unstable region, take care of its own people, and be a reliable partner for the U.S."
Before departing COB Warhorse, McHugh assured the Soldiers, "This is the greatest land fighting force the world has ever seen … and it is our responsibility with whatever resources we are given to do the best job we can to preserve it."