WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Nov. 2, 2011) -- Secretary of the Army John McHugh believes that with the drawdown of forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, talented Soldiers will need to be retained while Army infrastructure draws down, and the American people and war fighters need to maintain a connection.

"You can't have an Army without people," McHugh said at a recent breakfast in a downtown hotel, adding that the Army today is family-oriented, unlike the vast majority of single Soldiers in the 1970s.

McHugh said it's also time to take a look at the balance between contracting and providing government services.

"I think it was long overdue that the Army takes the opportunity to look at how it does its business. We had outsourced a lot of jobs, hired a lot of contractors and they did yeoman's work for us, but it was time after nearly a decade of that trend to take a better look at how we're doing things inside the Army and I expect ... by the time these are implemented, we could save, say by the year of 2017, upwards of $10 billion a year," he said.

McHugh hopes these kinds of savings will contribute toward decreasing the deficit and the debt, and will, in turn, spur the economy. But without a budget, decisions are difficult to make.

"Now, we're looking at possible options so that we can make smart decisions correctly, rather than not-so-smart decisions quickly, but until we know what our figures are it's kind of hard to say what we would actually take action against," McHugh said.

But with these actions, whatever they may be, the Army secretary believes that the military needs to remain part of the American fabric.

"I would argue that the Guard and Reserve are terrific ambassadors across virtually every state and every community in this nation ... they put a face on the goodness that is military service.

"Those that are operating in areas or states where we don't have a base are playing an even more important role because they can help bring the military message to communities and people that otherwise don't have reason to be exposed to it," he said.

After 10 years of war with less than 1 percent of the population participating directly in uniform in that war, McHugh says the Army has to make sure it doesn't become an enclave unto itself.

"We're already scheduled and programmed to come down from current (strength), roughly 569,000 to 520,000. But for us, the glideslope by which we reach that end strength so that we can direct resources and balance ourselves, while providing the programs that are underpinning those forces, is equally important.

He knows the Army cost driver is end strength. So if the budget goes down further, he said, the end strength is likely to come down as well.

"What that will be, will in part be determined, of course, by what that budget number is. So it's not like we have a vote in this matter, we will at the end of the day be handed a budget and our key objective, whatever that budget number may be, is to come out and shape an Army that is balanced and retains the great skills and capabilities that have been honed over the last 10 years. We don't want to lose this most effective land force the world has ever seen, and balance is the key to that," he said.

If the Army looks at jobs and declining budgets, he said, and it draws down end strength to whatever the number may be, it has less need for facilities.

"At some point we have to begin to look at rationalizing the vacancies and would it make sense for us to support another BRAC. We don't want to be over-structured, that costs -- in fact it wastes money -- but at this point we need to do a little bit more analysis," he said.

The operating force, over the last 10 years, has become incredibly adaptive, he said, adding that he was recently in Afghanistan's Arghandab Valley, west of Kandahar City, where he witnessed this adaptability.

"We took off our body armor and walked into a village about a half mile away and the Soldiers that led the fight to clear that part of the valley were now working with the Afghan elders. They were establishing the Afghan local police with a special operations captain, a young man, and a first lieutenant, just over a year out of West Point ... they were exercising authorities and responsibilities we probably would have given to a ... brigadier general 10 years ago ... now they were out there doing amazing things and each and every day they change what they're doing because the enemy changes. That's adaptability, that's creativity," he said.

In the immediate term, he said, it's a retention problem.

"How do we bring Soldiers like that home, who have exercised such authorities and have shown such creativity, into a garrison environment and keep then interested and challenged and engaged is one of our critical challenges for the future.

"I've asked our TRADOC folks, and I've asked leaders throughout the institutionalized Army as to how we can reconfigure everything from social programs to education programs to flexibility and our rating system to allow more creativity and perhaps re-examine the traditional Army ladder of promotion to see what we can do to create an environment that keeps young leaders, just amazing Soldiers like that, interested in the Army and at the same time, of course, attracting those kinds of folks in the future.

"That's not a budget problem, it's just a problem of our breaking out of our traditional way of thinking about things and trying to create a peacetime Army and opportunities in that peacetime Army that will keep the kind of incredible people that have been stepping forward and putting their name on the dotted line for the last 10 years coming to us.