FORT SILL, Okla. (Feb. 7, 2013) -- Secretary of the Army John McHugh was briefed on how the Fires Center of Excellence uses different training environments to be more cost effective after a visit here, Feb. 6-7.

"The depth of training capability they have, really from initial entry [training] right into pre-command, is impressive," said McHugh. "And the way in which they take care of our Soldiers is equally impressive."

This was McHugh's first visit to Fort Sill.

"If you look at our challenges with respect to training into the future, the development and utilization of simulators here at Fort Sill is instructive to people like myself," said McHugh.

He said the field artillery and air defense artillery simulators inside Monti Hall can help reduce the cost of training in a time when budget cuts are threatening. He emphasized that although they are effective, simulation cannot eliminate live training.

"We have to have the right mix and the right balance of virtual and constructive, live training. And what they're doing here under General [Mark] McDonald's leadership at Fort Sill I think is a lesson," said McHugh.

After visiting a firing point on the West Range, McHugh saw firsthand how simulated training prepares Soldiers for the gun line. Joint Fires Observers sent target information to a Fires Direction Center where a group of Basic Officer Leaders Course students from 1st Battalion, 30th Field Artillery, and the Marine Detachment, were ready and waiting.

"You can't help but smile when you see Soldiers in the field pulling lanyards; I mean that's why they went into the artillery," said McHugh.

As far as how the Field Artillery and Air Defense Artillery will conduct business in the future, McHugh said there will be no immediate changes.

"It's evolutionary," he said. "If you look at the hundreds of thousands of artillery rounds fired in Afghanistan for example, I think artillery will continue to be an absolutely irreplaceable part of our going to war. I can't see any time in the near future where Fires and Effects won't be necessary to be successful on the battlefield and that's the way we're planning the Army of both today and tomorrow."

McHugh readily admitted sequestration will have a huge impact on the Army. He said as a former member of Congress, he is still hopeful they can reach an agreement before the military takes a hit.

"Obviously, we're most concerned about our people and most concerned about those we are sending forward to theater," McHugh explained. "So, we have walled off the accounts that take care of the Soldiers as they are forward deployed into Afghanistan; we have walled off the accounts for training for the next to deploy into theater."

McHugh said he also wants to protect programs for family members as much as possible while looking into what can be reasonably eliminated. He said the greatest danger the national defense faces from sequestration would be the inability to provide adequate training like the kind at Fort Sill.

"It costs money to go out there and fire those rounds, and in terms of prioritization and where we have to protect our Soldiers and our warfighters, training such as that, I think, would be pretty profoundly affected," said McHugh. "Great leaders like General McDonald and others are trying to find ways by which they can ameliorate that if necessary, but at some point there's only so much you can do."