SOUTH BEND, Ind. (Aug. 10, 2012) -- The last 11 years of conflict have once again given the nation reason to be proud of American Soldiers' incredible achievements: the sacrifices they've made, the flexibility and skill they've shown, and the strategic capabilities they've brought during a challenging time.

"This Army has not just succeeded, but it has excelled, and has done so magnificently," said Secretary of the Army John McHugh, addressing a group of the most senior career civilians during a recent professional education program. Acknowledging the critical role Army civilians have played, McHugh continued, "All of us, as part of this team, had a very important piece in that effort."

Through opportunities for professional development and education, the Army will shape the future civilian workforce, ensuring adaptive leaders with diverse experiences, who are able to solve complex problems -- an effort comparable to the development of Soldiers throughout their careers. Retaining and managing talent is a top priority for Army leaders, particularly during downsizing.

Citing the tough situation civilians have endured -- pay and hiring freezes and the threat of shutdowns -- McHugh said he's committed to providing civilian employees the means by which to grow, evolve and develop professional capabilities despite diminishing resources.

Speaking to senior civilians attending the Army Senior Executive Education Program at the University of Notre Dame, McHugh said that while the Army needs to remain robust on the military side to execute missions, it must also provide for a sufficiently robust civilian workforce with money for training and modernization.

"If you don't do that, you get out of balance," he said.

Civilians make up roughly one quarter of the 1.4 million-person Army, providing a full range of skills that complement military occupational specialties. From acquisition specialists and human resource managers to medical professionals and engineers, civilians are integral to helping the Army meet its missions around the world.

In an era of declining budgets and a reduction in active duty end strength, it's likely the civilian workforce also will be smaller, decreasing even beyond last year's reduction of 8,700 employees. And although the Army hasn't determined specific numbers for the future, budget realities indicate these cuts aren't the end.

Generally, during every post-conflict period, budgets decrease. The Army's challenge, according to McHugh, is to manage it.

"We have to get this right," he said.

In 2009, then-Secretary of Defense Robert Gates gave the services a mission to increase efficiency. McHugh said the Army has met this challenge.

"Every day for the last three years, we've been looking for ways to do things more smartly, in a way that can help us go forward as intelligently as possible," he said. "We can manage it and shape it ourselves, or we can have it done to us."

McHugh said he knows the "irreplaceable contributions" civilians have made to the Army. "Our Soldiers forward deployed should know they couldn't have done the things they have been able to do without the kind of leadership and support [civilians] have provided."

"We are committed not to try to balance our budget requirements on the backs of anyone, and that includes the civilian workforce," McHugh said. "Without our people, we don't have an Army."