By Heather Graham-Ashley, III Corps and Fort Hood Public AffairsDecember 6, 2011
FORT HOOD, Texas (Dec. 6, 2011) -- As American forces are scheduled to be out of Iraq by the end of this month, they are leaving the nation in a position to sustain the long-fought peace that has been established over the past nine years, explained Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond T. Odierno at Fort Hood, Dec. 6.
Odierno was at the Great Place to meet with commanders and community leaders, and to provide an update about the current state of the Army as well as the way ahead.
"Obviously, the corps remains significantly committed to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan," the chief said.
With the last Fort Hood troops in Iraq arriving home or re-positioning to in theater, Odierno said that, looking back on the height of sectarian violence and potential civil war in Iraq in 2006, it would be difficult to believe the country is where it is today.
"I always tell everybody we have to put it in perspective and I think the military has made incredible strides working with the Iraqi military and the Iraqi government to provide a level of security that will be sustainable by the Iraqi Security Forces as we leave," Odierno said. "There's still violence in Iraq, but the level of violence is significantly less than it has been for a long time. We believe they have the capacity to sustain peace within Iraq."
The Army chief said it is time to allow Iraq to recognize their sovereignty and allow them to move forward as a nation. Odierno said the Iraqis "still have many difficult challenges ahead of them, both political and economic," but the U.S. will maintain relationships forged over the last nine years.
"Just because we left, doesn't mean we don't and will not sustain a long-term military relationship with Iraq," he explained. "Whatever size of the Army we have has got to be ready, modernized and capable of meeting whatever tasks they're asked to do."
As operations in Iraq come to a close and the defense budget remains in question, the Army is facing potential cuts to the force. Odierno said those cuts would require a re-look at how the Army provides national security, since reduction in troop levels across the services could reduce the military's capability to respond to real and potential threats.
"We're going to have to determine, depending on what level we end up at, what we can and can't do," he said. "It's up to me, as well as the other joint chiefs as we talk about the joint force, to ensure we communicate what we'll be able to do and what we can't do."
Policy and national strategy will have to be adjusted to meet the available force, which could be the smallest Army since the 1940s, the smallest Air Force ever in this nation's history and the lowest number of ships the military has had in a long time, Odierno said.
With those cuts, more Soldiers will be transitioning out of the Army into a shaky civilian job market and economy. Many of them could potentially join the more than 20 percent of veterans receiving unemployment compensation; a number Odierno said is much higher than their civilian counterparts.
"It's significantly higher than the normal unemployment rate, so it's incumbent on us to ensure that we have processes in place that allow them to properly transition into civilian society, and getting the jobs that we believe they are more than qualified for," the Army chief said.
The unemployment rate among veterans is a major concern of the Army chief as Soldiers leave the Army and return to civilian society. Citing Soldiers' dedication, discipline, training and skills development, Odierno said they, as a whole, are more than capable of garnering civilian positions.
"I'm more than comfortable with them taking on a variety of jobs," he said.
Recent tax break legislation to encourage companies to hire veterans has been a good start, Odierno said, but more work can be done to help Soldiers find work outside the military. Compounding their difficulty finding civilian careers, he said many veterans leaving the military and entering civilian society are doing so battling the effects of traumatic brain injuries and post-traumatic stress.
The Army is pouring in resources to help Soldiers, and will continue to do so, Odierno said, but there is no black-and-white answer to post-traumatic stress or traumatic brain injuries, known as PTS or TBI.
"It's a complex, difficult issue that we'll continue to work through," he said.
Army officials continue to work with governmental veterans' agencies, doctors and behavioral health specialists to ease Soldiers' transitions and provide the best care available, Odierno said, noting that the commitment to providing support and care to Soldiers and their families is one Army officials work every day, and will continue.
"Our priority remains with our Soldiers and families and we will ensure that the programs remain in place. We will continue to fund those programs," Odierno said. "That's our priority and we'll never walk away from that priority."