CAMP ZAMA, Japan (Sept. 20, 2012) -- The assistant secretary of the Army for Manpower and Reserve Affairs addressed questions regarding personnel reductions, overseas tour lengths, and spouse employment opportunities during an open forum with community members here Sept. 17.

The Honorable Thomas R. Lamont spoke with Soldiers, Department of the Army civilians, and family members at the installation's Community Activity Center. His visit was part of an ongoing tour of commands throughout the Pacific region.

Lamont said it was his "obligation to see and visit the Army," adding that he wants "to be face to face with Soldiers and civilians, and hear what their problems and concerns are."

"People would like to hear from a live person and have the ability and opportunity to engage with someone who is supposed to be involved in the policy-making at the Pentagon," said Lamont. "Nobody wants to just hear from a faceless figure from the Pentagon saying, 'Here is what is going to impact your lives.'"

At the forum, the assistant secretary faced questions regarding proposed reductions of the Army's Soldier and civilian workforces. He assured those in attendance that the issue is being carefully examined at the Department of Defense level.

"Clearly, we're concerned about our end-strength drawdown and how this may impact us," said Lamont. "We understand that is a concern, but you will always need your land forces. We don't believe that a strategy that emphasizes air and sea [support] will necessarily negate the growing responsibility and purpose of land forces."

Lamont also addressed the DoD policy that limits Army civilians' overseas tours to no more than five years in most cases. The policy is quoted with the intent to "increase employment opportunities for military spouses and family members and developmental opportunities for employees in the United States ... and promote a joint perspective in the workforce."

"There seems to be a lot of angst on that and what [the policy] really means," said Lamont. "Quite frankly, I don't have a good answer for that. The Army did not know about that policy coming out until the very day it was announced.

"We're in the process now of getting guidance on how to put out how it is going to truly impact everybody," Lamont added. "In the meantime, we've tried to give commanders exception to the policy for both mission needs and humanitarian needs."

Another topic touched on by Lamont was the apparent difficulty some Army spouses stationed overseas encounter when seeking employment. He said he hopes changes can soon be made to minimize that "inhibition and ... lack of opportunity."

Lamont concluded by asserting the Army will play a role -- "potentially a growing role," he said -- in the U.S. military's ongoing focus on humanitarian and bilateral operations in the Asian-Pacific theater.

"You may not see it in huge movements, but I would think over time, you would see our land forces here likely to enhance this [strategy]," Lamont said.