WASHINGTON (June 22, 2012) -- The Army's not going anywhere, Secretary of the Army John McHugh reassured Soldiers, Army civilians and their families in a recent interview.
In fact, as he told Congress while testifying in February, he gets "a little red behind the ears" when people assume that the Department of Defense's increased attention on the Asia-Pacific region means a focus on air and sea power only, or that the Army will somehow no longer be either relevant or needed.
"There's a lot of air and there's a lot of water, but there are a lot of people," he explained. "If you really look at that region, most of the nations for which we have concern and or attention are army-centric. The principal military force in almost every country in that part of the world is the army. We think that, as has been true in the past, the United States Army's future in that region is right. It's not as though we've been nonexistent as a military force in that part of the world."
In fact, he pointed out that between Soldiers and civilians, the Army currently has 75,000 people in Asia, and that last year it had more than 120 meetings, exercises and other activities with its Asian-Pacific counterparts.
"We see our role there as very, very important, and whether it's in the Asia-Pacific region or anywhere else in the world, at the end of the day, if you're really going to control land and bring stability and bring peace, the Army's the force to get that job done," he added. "I think both the president and the secretary of defense have made very clear that their main objective, which is ours as well, is to preserve this magnificent land force that's been built over the last 10 years, and ensure we remain in the future what we are today: the greatest land power the world's ever seen."
McHugh and other Army and DOD leaders are committed to maintaining that strength in the face of mounting budget cuts: Over the next 10 years, the DOD plans to cut $487 billion from its budget. The Army's fiscal year 2013 budget request is $184.6 billion, about $18 billion less than fiscal year 12. The current numbers are manageable, McHugh said, but one of his biggest concerns is the sequestration measure under the 2011 Budget Control Act, which would cut another $500 billion from the defense budget over the same period, beginning in January 2013. Those additional cuts would have a "devastating impact," he told the House Armed Services Committee in February, "not only on the Army's programs, systems and readiness, but also on our Soldiers, civilians and their families."
After past conflicts, he said, leaders historically drew the Army down too far and too fast, leaving a hollow force behind. He's determined not to repeat these mistakes. Balance is the key to avoiding that, the key to retaining "what a Soldier needs to be ready to go to war, to go out and do the hard work of freedom when they're called upon." To achieve that balance, Army experts and leaders spent about eight months developing a budget that continues funding for readiness, training and modernization.
It's impossible to predict exactly what the Army of the Future will look like or need, "but what we are trying to do is to build a joint force that evolves and keeps up with the most modern technology, that reacts to the realities of the global military posture of both our allies and those who don't wish us the best of futures," McHugh said. "And, most importantly, produce an Army that, at any given moment is able to, as (Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Raymond T. Odierno) says, deter win and shape the future.
"We never want to have to go to war again, but we know we have to maintain an Army that deters an aggressor, that sends the clear message that if you engage in aggression, you'll have to pay a terrible price. We want an Army as well that, should it be called upon to go to war, has what it needs, (is) fully ready (and) is trained and equipped with the latest, most advanced weaponry to win and to come home quickly. That is our objective for 2020."
Fulfilling that objective involves several main areas of focus, including next-generation vehicles such as the joint light tactical vehicle and the Bradley tank's replacement. In fact, McHugh said that the ground combat vehicle program and providing MRAP-like protection to keep Soldiers safe are top priorities.
And whether it's in those vehicles, existing vehicles or through hand-held technology, "it's absolutely critical that you extend to the edge of the battlefield and to the … individual Soldier and the lowest units, full tactical and strategic awareness on the battlefield, and have those information lines and communication lines throughout our entire force," McHugh said.
In addition, he said that Army and DOD networks are probed dozens, perhaps hundreds, of times each day by "outside sources," so cyber security is "one of the things that we're most challenged by and, frankly, one of the things that we still consider ourselves vulnerable to." McHugh therefore sees increased emphasis on the importance of Army and defense cyber commands over the next few years.
He stressed that overall funding for family programs will continue unchanged, saying that "taking care of families is part of our moral obligation as an Army. They are part of us and we have to make sure that they have the programs available to them that are necessary for their quality of life. It's also a question of readiness. If you're going to send a Soldier thousands of miles away and ask him or her to engage in combat and take on some other mission, be apart from that family, the last thing we want them to do is to unnecessarily worry about if their spouses and their children are taken care of."
With the new budget limitations, however, something has to give, and "we're going to have to ask hard questions about every dollar that we spend. We've got to make sure that underperforming or nonperforming programs either turn around their fortunes or will have to be cancelled," McHugh acknowledged. "It's the responsible thing to do, both from the tax payer's perspective, but also from the Soldier's perspective. We want to make sure we're focusing upon those programs that are productive, (programs) that actually can be fielded and meet an urgent need."
McHugh believes the Army has enough Humvees, for example, and while discussing the budget request, Army Budget Director Maj. Gen. Phillip E. McGhee and Deputy Budget Director Barbara L. Bonessa told reporters that other programs that will be cut include enhanced medium-altitude reconnaissance and surveillance aircraft, the medium tactical vehicle program, the Mounted Soldier System and the Joint Precision Approach and Landing System.
The active Army's end strength will fall by approximately 70,000 Soldiers to about 490,000 over the next five years. To do this, McHugh said that the Army is "aggressively" controlling recruiting, so it can keep not only a healthy mix of new Soldiers and experienced noncommissioned officers and officers, but also the best of the best. That may mean giving some deserving Soldiers the opportunity to change military occupational specialties, because "the last thing we want to do is force out a Soldier who's answered the call of duty." If Soldiers do need to leave the service, he said that the Army would provide them with all possible transition and job search assistance.
The same is true of Army civilians, he added, noting that although the Army has thus far shrunk its civilian ranks without resorting to a reduction in force, RIFs "will likely be probable. The last thing -- on the civilian side as well -- we want to do is force out otherwise good people who've done a good job for us. But budget numbers are inescapable. We'll work these numbers as carefully as we can, but at some point, we have to deal with the reality of what the Congress and the administration gives us in terms of resources."
For example, President Barack Obama asked Congress to establish an outside commission to examine the military retirement system. It's worth looking at, McHugh said, echoing former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates' suggestion that servicemembers be allowed to receive some form of benefit before the 20-year mark. All of the DOD leaders, McHugh continued, believe current servicemembers should be grandfathered under the existing system.
"There might be better ways to do these kinds of things," he said, "We owe it to the American public, but we also owe it to the future Soldiers to take a look at that."
TRICARE patients will see some changes as well -- something McHugh says is unpleasant but necessary to preserve the program for the future, especially given skyrocketing health care costs. He said the military health care program has almost doubled in 10 years. Retirees will see higher, tiered enrollment fees for TRICARE Prime and TRICARE-for-Life based on their retirement pay, and pharmacy copays will increase incrementally from $5 to $9 for generics and $12 to $34 for brand-name medications by fiscal year 2017.
"At the end of the day," he said, "if these increases were adopted and implemented in the timelines that have been requested, the military health care plan would still be among the most, if not the most, generous anywhere in America, and that's the way it should be."
Care for wounded warriors, which McHugh called a "sacred" obligation, will continue for as long as there's a need out there. "This is not something that you can sit down and say 'here's how many wounded warriors we're going to have and here's how long we're going to have to care for them.
"These are incredible men and women and every time I travel, I try to go by the wounded warrior unit and say 'Hi' to those folks. I always wonder what I can do to lift their spirits when in fact they always lift mine with their courage, their determination. We need to and we will stand by them."