FORT RUCKER, Alabama (June 27, 2012) -- Observing aviation training firsthand and interacting with the Soldiers going through flight school were just a few of the reasons Under Secretary of the Army Joseph W. Westphal said he visited Fort Rucker June 25 and 26.
"I think aviation is such a critical element in terms of the development of the force of the future," the secretary said before his departure Tuesday afternoon. "We cannot reduce our support or compromise our ability to deliver that kind of support to our Soldiers around the world."
During the two-day visit, Westphal flew in several different aircraft; experienced simulation training at Warrior Hall in Daleville; observed Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape training; visited the U.S. Army Combat Readiness/Safety Center; and spent time with Soldiers on post.
He praised the training at Fort Rucker, saying it "has been the stalwart of our efforts in the last 10 years of very significant combat operations in two theaters of war."
Westphal said his visit to Fort Rucker was an important part of understanding the role of Army aviation and how to further investments in the branch as combat operations in Afghanistan come to a close and the Army braces for potential budget cuts.
Maj. Gen. Anthony G. Crutchfield, U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence and Fort Rucker commanding general, called Westphal's trip to the post a "critical visit."
"I think the important thing is it gives him insight into what's happening down here at Fort Rucker and how we conduct aviation training," Crutchfield said, adding that he did not anticipate any cost-cutting measures that would degrade the training conducted on post.
"We are not facing any drastic resource cuts in this branch," he emphasized. "Army aviation is the best-resourced branch in the Army and that's not going to change."
One of the highlights of Westphal's visit to Fort Rucker was a flight in a new Chinook model, a CH-47F.
The secretary said he wanted to learn about the differences between the Fox model and the more standard models the Army has used over the past 10 years.
Westphal spoke to the pilots of that aircraft to learn exactly what those differences meant for the Soldiers who would be using the equipment.
"Learning about that, seeing how it operated, feeling the ride, understanding the role of that aircraft and understanding a little bit about the training and what our Soldiers are going through to learn to operate it was very, very instructive," he said.
The best way to learn about aviation training, he said, wasn't reading a briefing, but visiting the Soldiers where they are and talking to the people who actually fly the aircraft.
"Those are reasons I think it was important for me to come here," he explained.
During his time at Fort Rucker, Westphal said he was able to ask Soldiers pointed questions about the installation, training, redundancies, equipment and training schedules.
He also spoke with almost every level of Soldier, from junior enlisted to senior officers.
"I think their candidness and their willingness to share their experience is pretty valuable," Westphal said. "I think they feel that in their own way, this is another way they can contribute to the Army and their country because they realize that these types of conversations lead to decisions down the road."
Westphal maintained Army aviation is an "absolutely critical and essential" piece of that plan for the future.
"The Army needs aviation. The nation needs the Army to be mobile and needs the Army to have the kind of assets that it needs to get our Soldiers to places they need to get to," Westphal said, adding that Army aviation is also an essential element of disaster relief and homeland defense.
"Coming here gave me a very good perspective on how we sustain that readiness in Army aviation," he said.