The Under Secretary of the Army, the Honorable Dr. Joseph Westphal, visited Fort Hood Friday as part of a trip to the Central Texas region. In addition to the Great Place, Westphal also visited Fort Sam Houston and the University of Texas at Austin.
During his visit, the under secretary engaged Soldiers, Family members and senior leadership and toured medical facilities, research and development programs and took a look at military training.
In addition to learning more about the locations in Central Texas, he also took the time to speak about the larger picture of the changing Army and the future of the force.
One of Westphal's primary focuses is the force reductions that will be taking place in the Army during the next decade.
"The force reductions are being spread to a lot of different areas in a way that we're trying not to affect any one particular part of the Army," he said. "Right now, the Army, in terms of the things it does for the country, is functioning very, very well. So we're trying to make sure we don't undermine any one particular area."
Westphal said he and other senior leaders are working hard to make sure force reductions are even, fair and rolled out in a responsible manner to prevent a "hollowing of the force."
He added that although budgets are tightening and changes are occurring, the Army is committed to maintaining vital programs, especially those that support Family members and wounded warriors.
"The health of the force, the resilience of our force is critical," he stressed.
He spoke of the unwavering support for Soldiers and their Families, from the highest echelons of the Department of Defense.
"Not only do we believe very strongly across the entire leadership of the department, not just the Army but in the department, that we owe it to our Soldiers and Families to support them given what the Army has been through in the last 10 years and continues to go through … we feel that in terms of the future of the force, our ability to sustain a very well-trained, very resilient Army requires us to continue to make that investment."
He said while strong support of Family programs will continue, the Army also will assess efficiencies and make changes where needed.
The under secretary added that the continued care and support of wounded warriors and their Families is another commitment he and other senior leaders view as a top priority. He said the Army continues to invest and focus on advancing medical science in areas relating to traumatic brain injury, post traumatic stress and prosthetics in an effort to best help wounded warriors.
"We're focused on that piece of it, which is to continue to invest in the science and research that underpins development and knowledge and experience in improving how we treat Soldiers and the effects of war," he said.
While Westphal's visit was a comprehensive overview of a spectrum of programs in Central Texas, he said he enjoyed his visit to the Great Place immensely.
"It was magnificent. Fort Hood … I'd like to say it's a gem, but it's so big, it's a very big gem," he added with a chuckle.
During his visit, Westphal ate with Soldiers, met with Fort Hood and III Corps Commanding General Lt. Gen. Don Campbell Jr. and other senior leaders and viewed Soldier training.
He said he was impressed by the seriousness and thoughtfulness of the Soldiers he met during his visit.
"They were interested in knowing what the Army is going to do about their future, how we're going to continue to sustain the Army with the budget conditions that we're in," he said. "They asked very good questions and were very thoughtful about their questions."
Westphal added that directly engaging with Soldiers and Families at all levels is the best way to prepare them for the coming changes.
"We need to continue to be very clear and open and transparent with our Soldiers and their Families about the future. We shouldn't be afraid to tell them the truth," he said.
The under secretary added that from what he has seen of Fort Hood, that's something that commanders and leaders at all levels strive for.
"I think the command climate here is exactly that … I think it is one of clarity and openness and dialogue by the (commanding general) and his staff. I was very taken by that as I observed that first-hand," he said.
Westphal, a former professor of political science at Oklahoma State University, also stressed the importance of continued education in his remarks.
"The resources are getting tighter and it's going to get a little tougher to stay in the Army," he said. "It's important for folks to get an education. At the end of the day, no matter what you are, whether you're a general or whether you're a private, your education is going to make your life better and it's going to help your Family."
Photo Credit: Daren M. Reehl, Fort Hood (VI)