FORT JACKSON, S.C. -- Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Raymond T. Odierno visited Fort Jackson Oct. 25 for the first time in his 36-year Army career. During his visit, Odierno observed Basic Combat Training sites, spoke with drill sergeants and conducted a town hall meeting.
During the town hall meeting, Odierno said visiting Fort Jackson was important to him because of the significance the installation has to the Army.

"Here is where (new Soldiers) first get their first taste of being in the Army, their first taste of change in their life," Odierno said. "We know that 54,000 Soldiers trained here in the past 10 months. So your impact on the Army as a whole is quite significant."

He said he had the chance to observe some "really good, tough training."

"I was impressed with the young men and women I saw. I was impressed with the fact that it was clear that they were trying to make themselves better, that they wanted to be part of something that was better than themselves," Odierno said. "That's what this place is about."

Before fielding questions from the audience, Odierno gave an overview of the Army's direction to the Soldiers, civilians and family members who attended the town hall meeting.

He said that because the Department of Defense is facing about $500 billion in budget cuts over the next 10 years, troop numbers in the Army are projected to go down from 570,000 Soldiers at the beginning of this year to 490,000 by the end of 2017.

"The main thing we want to do is we want to keep the best Soldiers, the best officers, the best civilians that we can in the Army," he said.

He reassured Soldiers that the majority of troop cuts will be achieved through natural attrition and not through forced separation.

"I'm just telling you upfront that if you're doing your job and you're keeping your nose clean, you'll have no problem re-enlisting," Odierno said.

Many of the questions fielded by Soldiers in attendance centered on budget cuts as well.

Odierno assured Soldiers that the retirement benefits of those who are on active duty now will not be affected by the cuts. He said any potential new retirement plan would include a great deal of input from the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

"We want to make sure that the (retirement) package is something that is representative of the sacrifice that is asked of our Soldiers and families," he said.

Odierno emphasized that during the current economic situation every Soldier's help is required by practicing good financial stewardship.

"The problem we have now is we have a lot of people who've been in the Army only since 9/11. Since 9/11 we've had more money in the Army than any time in my career," Odierno said. "And what we've done is we've taught bad habits, because if you needed something you could get it. …. That's not how it's always been in the Army. … What we have to be able to do is inculcate in all of us a way to make the best use of every dollar that we have. … It's incumbent on us to retrain ourselves to understand how we become good stewards of our Army and our equipment."

Odierno also addressed the need to make sure the number and quality of drill sergeants in the Army is adequate.

"It's not just about having drill sergeants, but about having the right people here to be drill sergeants," he said. "To me, this is one of the most important assignments you can have. One of the things we're talking about is we'll let promotion boards know this as well -- that we consider drill sergeant to be one of the most important jobs in the Army."