By Don Kramer, Northwest GuardianNovember 22, 2011
JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. (Nov. 22, 2011) -- With the fiscal debate in Congress hovering over military budgets, Army senior leadership is focused on maintaining equilibrium no matter what happens.
Gen. Peter W. Chiarelli came to Joint Base Lewis-McChord Nov. 16 and among briefings and speaking engagements, took time to speak to the installation's military community about "a very serious budget (and) fiscal situation back in Washington D.C." and the Army's priorities in the face of it.
"We're fighting for one thing -- balance in everything we do," Chiarelli said.
The vice chief said Gen. Raymond T. Odierno and Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, who took their posts recently as Army chief of staff and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, have seamlessly continued to advocate the goals and values of their predecessors. They share the same vision of the direction of the Army in the next two decades.
"General Odierno, given his extensive experience, has come on board and I think is doing the things that basically General Dempsey would do, that were set up by what General (George) Casey did. Although we have different leadership, the continuity remains."
In addition to family programs, in which the Army has made considerable investment, leadership development, modernization and training will factor into the ongoing budget dialogue, Chiarelli said. But nothing will be protected at the expense of the rest.
"We're going to look at the current budget situation, whatever happens to the Army, whatever cuts we're forced to absorb, we need to have a balanced force," he said. "We've got to be balanced whatever we do, so whatever the size of the force is at the end of this whole thing, that they are well trained, that they are a modernized force, that they can go do what the nation asks them to do."
Finding efficiencies and eliminating redundancies will become important ways to keep expenses down, but in the process of determining priorities, Army leaders will be soliciting input from the ground up about which programs are returning the value that was intended.
"What we've really been asking for in that particular area is that posts, camps and stations come back and tell us," Chiarelli said. "It's never good to try to shape things from Washington, D.C. What we really need is for places like JBLM (Joint Base Lewis-McChord) to look at the family programs out there, and (tell us) if there are inefficiencies that you all see, duplicated, replicated or aren't serving the original purposes that they were established for."
"I don't want to try to find out what those programs are from Washington, D.C.," he continued. "I want the leadership of JBLM to tell me. But there's no back-off either from the chief of staff of the Army and I will tell you for sure from the secretary of the Army who feels very strongly about ensuring that family programs are maintained. This is the time we need those programs."
Likewise as programs are evaluated for cuts, the vice chief said he is "focused like a laser beam" on maintaining our commitments to wounded warriors and particularly those returning with post-traumatic stress and traumatic brain injuries.
The returning force from Iraq and drawing down strength in Afghanistan are much on the minds of Army leadership, with difficult challenges ahead.
EXPANDED BOG: DWELL
"We know how hard it is to cut force structures at the same time you're in theaters of war," Chiarelli said. "We've never done that in our country before. We're very concerned as we look at it that we do this in a way and time it in a way that we continue to improve our BOG (boots on the ground):dwell ratio, that we continue to get the force from 1:2 and beyond 1:2, where you're spending nine months downrange (BOG), 18 months at home (dwell). Our real goal is to get you home for 27 months for the nine-month deployment. We're watching very carefully the demand on the force the same time we start to bring the force down."
Wounded warriors factor heavily in BOG:dwell calculations, he said, with Soldiers populating the disability evaluation system who can't deploy. With a required fixed end strength, the fit and deployable are called upon more often because of the substantial numbers with disabilities who cannot deploy. Meetings are ongoing to alleviate the pressure on fit replacements.
"We're looking to get that system to be much more efficient in how it operates," Chiarelli said. "We're looking for new authorities from Congress that says now that we've come off stop-loss, can we give a person a longer drop from the service, because when I'm forced to keep a Soldier on the books who can't deploy because he can't spend the amount of time downrange, there's another person who is holding a spot. If I give him a couple months drop without a loss in benefits, it means I can bring somebody else in.
"We're looking at those kinds of changes to the rules because it's absolutely essential that we take the stress off the force. Believe me, there is not a day that goes by where we're not discussing BOG:dwell, because we're very focused on ensuring that Soldiers get much more time at home in the next 10 years than they've gotten in the last 10 years."
Chiarelli said he is struck that there are majors and senior noncommissioned officers, or NCOs, in the Army who joined in 2001 who have never served when the country wasn't at war. He is concerned that leaders have fallen out of the habit of doing things they once did as routine, from Army Substance Abuse Program counseling to filling out the correct forms when Soldiers get into trouble to document high-risk behavior.
"I think in the last year and a half we've started to turn the corner there, but we've got to continue to do that," he said, remembering a call he received from the deputy corps commander when he was a brigade commander at Fort Lewis about whether he had completed the paperwork when one of his Soldiers had been involved in an incident. "That's not the experience many of our leaders have had today and we've got to go back and relearn those things."
As the Army transitions back to garrison life, Chiarelli said it's important to change the deployment mindset and continue to offer young leaders new challenges to retain the best.
"We've got to ensure that we don't get to be an army that says that the only time you get to do anything good for your country is when you're deployed," he said. "We've got to get them growth experiences, to take young officers and ensure that they get the opportunity to do something other than deploy -- back on a joint staff or on the Department of the Army staff. We've had a tendency to say 'If I'm not downrange, then I'm not doing anything worthwhile.'"
"It's time to say that's not the case," Chiarelli explained. "We need well-rounded officers. We need officers who can perform in combat. We need officers who also understand how we budget in this country, understand how the joint staff works. Look for opportunities to go to graduate school. And the same for noncommissioned officers. There are lots of programs for noncommissioned officers to do those kinds of things."