In this space, a few columns ago, I wrote about change as a norm in our Army culture and explained that the Army Chief of Staff position is normally a four year tour - unless it is not!
A few months into his tour, GEN Marty Dempsey was chosen by the president to become the next Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. So now the Army has a new Chief – GEN Ray Odierno.
We wish GEN Dempsey well as our new CJCS and thank him for his vision and the initiatives that he established for our Army. We welcome GEN Ray Odierno and look forward to working with him and SMA Raymond F. Chandler as our uniformed leadership for the next four years.
One thing has not changed, however- the strength of the Army will be on display next month at AUSA’s largest Annual Meeting. Starting early on Sunday, 9 October, we will have 30,000 runners ready to participate in our 27th Ten-Miler.
Then, on Monday, 10 October, we will open our Annual Meeting in the Walter E. Washington Convention Center. The difference this year is that we will occupy the entire convention center for events, meetings and our excellent Army-Industry exhibits. AUSA has expanded to two levels that will allow us to occupy all five halls with more than 670 exhibits. We expect our attendees to exceed last year’s 36,000 so that we can showcase the Army to even more people.
One of AUSA’s hallmarks remains the dedicated and passionate service of our members and volunteer leaders in our 122 chapters. Chapter programs support soldiers and families from basic training graduation to welcome ceremonies to saying thanks for a career of selfless service at retirements. A tally of support by our chapters exceeds $1.7 million annually in addition to other care and support activities provided Army-wide. While the statistics of their activities are impressive and exceed that of previous years, it is the passion, patriotism and love of soldiers that remain the essence of AUSA’s commitment to the Army.
As we anticipate increased scrutiny of the DoD and Army budgets in the coming year, our theme will be that the force must remain trained and ready as it transitions and reshapes. The essence of the Army is our American soldier, and that soldier—whether active, Guard, Reserve or retired—cannot be expected to accept a reduction in pay and benefits. Thinking out loud about tinkering with retirement and compensation is dangerous and unsettling to the ranks from top to bottom. It was tried earlier in the 1980s, with the infamous REDUX and its options. It did not work, and Congress eventually repealed it.
AUSA, in conjunction with like-minded associations, has won many legislative victories for the Army and our membership. For the active Army, end strength this year has been maintained. For the reserve component personnel, $7.2 billion has been authorized to address equipment shortfalls. For soldiers and their families, pay raises, increased housing allowances, and increased funding for barracks and family housing are among the provisions in the new laws; for retirees, AUSA continues to protect the retired pay system from change and the commissary system funding from privatization while also temporarily barring the Defense Department from increasing any TRICARE Prime or Standard fees, pharmacy co-pays or TRICARE Reserve Select premiums. For federal civilians, a one-year extension has been authorized to allow premium pay for those deployed to the Central Command area of operations. Much has been accomplished, but there is much more to do and AUSA will remain vigilant.
AUSA’s commitment to the Army —as the Voice for the Army and support for the soldier—remains strong through our programs and the actions of our individual, corporate and sustaining members. In the past 61 years, AUSA has been there—engaged, energized and focused on Army needs and requirements. As our Army enters this transition period looking toward 2020, AUSA will continue its advocacy and actions and, most important, its commitment to keep our Army Strong—as America’s force of decisive action.