Gen. Raymond Odierno at the Dwight D. Eisenhower luncheon
Although the Army must play its part in addressing the nation’s fiscal crisis, Gen. Raymond Odierno said Tuesday, Oct. 11, that his challenge as chief of staff is to ensure that the Army remains “the force of decisive action for the nation.”
The task facing the Army leadership is “how to address an increasingly complex and uncertain world in a fiscally challenging environment,” Odierno told the Dwight D. Eisenhower luncheon at the Association of the United States Army’s Annual Meeting and Exposition.
Although he does not know how austere the budget conditions will be, “I know our nation expects us to be a part of the solution to our debt. We should be, and we will,” he said. But the nation also must recognize “the risks that brings with it.”
The only way to address the many security challenges facing the nation during a period of austerity, Odierno said, “is to set priorities, channel resources and prevent conflicts before they become too costly.”
He listed his priorities as winning the current fight in Afghanistan and stabilizing Iraq, developing a “versatile mix of capabilities, formations and equipment,” determining the right mix of heavy, medium, light and airborne forces and the division of those forces between the active and reserve components.”
He said the Army could not have accomplished all it did in 10 years of combat without the Army Reserve and National Guard and must maintain the ready access to those forces.
Odierno also stressed “unwavering commitment to the Army profession,” And he repeatedly emphasized his goal to maintain the Army’s current status as “the best trained, best equipped, best led, combat experienced land force the world has ever known.”
Throughout his speech, Odierno focused on the quality and sacrifices of soldiers and their families in a decade of war and the necessity to continue to care for them.
He said he constantly is reminded of the 14,000 decorations for valor soldiers have been awarded in 10 years of war, including six Medals of Honor. And he recognized Sgt. 1st Class Leroy Petry, who received prolonged standing applause from the large audience.
Odierno noted the discussions of possible changes in pay and benefits, started by former Defense Secretary Robert Gates and President Barack Obama.
Although those decisions will be made by the president and the Defense Department, the general said, “We are dedicated to a system that provides for soldiers and families, now and well into the future.”
With the growing budget pressure, Odierno said, “we all have to recognize that we will get smaller. That’s the fiscal reality. It’s the how that’s critical.”
Cutting too fast risks destroying the force and the trust between the soldiers and their leaders, “which is the foundation of everything we do.”
The chief urged the nation’s leaders to remember the lessons of history, when in periods of fiscal austerity and peace the Army was cut so deeply it was unprepared for the next conflict.
He stressed the need to maintain a flexible, versatile Army as part of the joint force.
While accepting the estimated $450 billion cut in defense funding expected in the next decade, Odierno said his biggest concern is the potential of $1 trillion in cuts if the congressional “super committee” is unable to find a way to cut $1.2 billion from the national debt over 10 years. Failure would result in automatic “sequester” of that amount from discretionary federal spending, about half of which would hit national security programs.
“That would be devastating to the joint force, and particularly the Army,” threatening the all volunteer force and “hollowing out” the military,” he warned.
In an apparent answer to defense analysts who say the possible threat from China will require more air and naval forces than ground troops, Odierno acknowledged that “there is a lot of water in Asia. But there also is a lot of people and armies, and that’s our business.”
He said the nation cannot ignore China’s military modernization, “but that need not lead to confrontation.” He advocated increased relations with the China’s neighbors “to reassure them of our continued commitment to the area.”