Reports from the AUSA 2009 Annual Meeting 


Gates: Afghan decisions important to Obama presidency    

            The decisions that President Obama will have to make on strategy and forces levels to address the increasing violence in Afghanistan "will be among the most important of his presidency,” Defense Secretary Robert Gates told the opening session of the annual AUSA Annual Meeting on Oct. 5.

            That makes it “important that we take the time to do all we can to get this right,” and it is “imperative that all of us taking part in these deliberations, civilians and military alike, provide our best advice to the president, candidly and privately, Gates said. That was an apparent reference to the controversy over the public comments that Gen. Stanley McChrystal, commander of U.S. and Allied Forces in Afghanistan, made supporting his request for additional troops.

            “Speaking for the Department of Defense, once the commander in chief has made his decisions, we will salute and execute those decisions faithfully to the best of our ability,” the secretary said.

            But before the president announces his decision, Gates said, “I am prepared to respond to urgent needs and will push to get the troops and the equipment they need.” He said combating the deadly IEDs “remains the number one priority” and promised the department “will do everything it can” to counter them and to “protect the men and women in the fight.”

            Looking to the future, Gates extolled the rapid changes the Army has made in adapting to counter-insurgency in doctrine, training and technology. The Army must work to retain the young officers and non-commissioned officers who have become experts in the new challenging type of war, he said.

            The secretary cited the new advise and assist brigade (AAB) concept, the first of which is about to deploy to Iraq to accelerate development of a national army. By next year, “almost the entire” U.S. force in Iraq will consist of AABs, with a similar situation in Afghanistan further in the future, he said.

            He said the Army must counter through future assignments and promotions the perception that the advise and assist roles are “second tier.”

            “The advise, train and equip role will be a key function for the Army in the years ahead,” Gates said.

            But the secretary disputed the concerns that the adjustment to the current irregular wars has left the Army unable to conduct complex, high-intensity conventional war.

            “The modernization plans for full-spectrum warfare continue,” he said, noting the accelerated development of the Warfighter Information Network and plans to field “spin offs” from the cancelled Future Combat Systems program across the entire force..

            “I remain committed to the Army’s ground equipment modernization program. But it has to be done in a way that reflects the lessons learned in the last few years about wars in the 21st century and the reality of the Department of Defense’s almost $30 billion investments in MRAPs,” Gates said.

            Gates was introduced by Army Secretary John McHugh, who called him “a hero of mine,” and said he “understands and cares deeply about the men and women of the Army.”

            Gates reflected that in his speech, noting the AUSA’s “Year of the NCO”  by calling the NCOs “the steel spine of the Army.”

            He assured the audience that President Obama “is committed to the well being of every soldier and to ensuring that they have the tools needed to do their job.” He also cited First Lady Michelle Obama efforts to support military families.

            He also cited the Department’s efforts to support the troops and their families, including $9 billion in the new budget for family support, child care, spousal services and housing, the new GI bill for education, the support for wounded warriors and the aggressive efforts to reduce suicides and “address the unseen wounds of war,” a reference to PTSD and other psychological problems.

            Gates said the Army’s success in reaching its new end strength goal of 547,000 and his approval of a temporary increase of an additional 22,000 could help meet the goal of ending stop loss and increase the dwell time at home.

            The reality is, a significant number of solders will continue to be deployed in the near and mid-term,” he added.

By Otto Kreisher
for AUSA

Secretary, chief will advise president in private  
Army Secretary John McHugh speaking at the
opening session of the AUSA Annual Meeting
on Oct. 5.

            In a meeting with reporters Monday, Army Secretary John McHugh and Gen. George Casey, the Army chief of staff, declined to speculate on possible increases in troops for Afghanistan, saying that decision will be made by President Obama and that their advice to the president will be made in private.

            That was in keeping with the statement that Defense Secretary Robert Gates had made to the AUSA audience earlier on Oct. 5.

            But Casey acknowledged that a large increase in Army troops to Afghanistan could make it harder to meet his goal of giving soldiers two years at home for every year deployed by 2011.

            McHugh, in his first AUSA Annual Meeting with reporters since taking over as secretary, said his commitment remained similar to his priorities when ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee – “to ensure we are doing everything we can for the men and women in uniform and their families.”

            He also cited the challenge  of modernizing the force and resetting the massive amount of equipment that will be coming out of Iraq.

            Casey reported that his two-year drive to get the Army back in balance after its heavy rotation rate for Iraq and Afghanistan and the shift from a Cold War structure “has made good progress. While we’re not out of the woods, we’re in a much better position.”

            He also reported that the Army was 90 percent completed in converting to modular brigades, and two-thirds of the way in converting occupational specialties from Cold War skills to the needs of the 21st century.

            And he stressed the new program to build mental resiliency to help soldiers deal with the stress of repeated combat tours. The Army plans to spend $125 million over the next five years to “put mental fitness on the same level as physical fitness.”

            That plan includes putting a master resiliency trainer in every brigade.

            Casey sketched out the future program to modernize the army, citing four elements.

            The first, he said, was recognizing that the network is key to giving soldiers the tools they need to prevail in combat. The second is to mature and expand the capabilities of the future combat system spin offs, by fielding “capability packages” into every brigade.

            The third effort will be integrating the MRAP armored vehicles into the brigade material package, putting them into Stryker brigades and road clearance units.

            The final objective will be to lay out the initial ideas for the first of the new design ground combat vehicle, which will replace the cancelled FCS. He said they expect to have it ready in five years.

            He  later told reporters they have yet to determine how heavy that vehicle will be.

            Casey and McHugh declined to say how the recent battle in Afghanistan that killed eight soldiers would influence the pending decision on strategy and force levels. They insisted the fight was being reviewed by the commanders in Afghanistan.

By Otto Kreisher
for AUSA

Casey reports on improved Army posture to meet new demands

            Although no decision has been made on sending additional forces to Afghanistan, the Army is “better positioned to accept some additional demands than we were two years ago,” Gen. George Casey, the Army Chief of Staff, told attendees at the Dwight David Eisenhower luncheon Oct. 6.

Gen. George Casey, Army chief of staff, speaks during the Eisenhower Luncheon at AUSA's Annual Meeting.
     That improved posture is the result of the efforts to put the Army back into balance that he launched when he took over and the 65,000 soldiers they have added, Casey said at the event in the Association of the United States Army’s Annual Meeting. 

     Casey reported on the progress the Army has made in regaining its balance and on the plans to adjust the service for the persistent conflict and uncertainty the future will bring. 

      The general recalled the four initiatives he started to rebalance the force, which were to sustain the soldiers and their families, prepare to win the on-going conflict, to reset the units effectively when they come home, and to transform the Army for an uncertain future.

            While not completely “out of the woods” yet, Casey said the force was better able to respond to additional force requirements if they emerge.

            He also noted the new initiative, that began Oct. 1 called the Comprehensive Soldier Fitness program to help offset the psychological stress of repeated tours in Iraq or Afghanistan.

            The goal was to “raise mental fitness to the level we now give to physical fitness,” Casey said.

            The program offers an on-line assessment, which will allow a soldier or family member to determine their own psychological state, and self-help models. The Army also will incorporate resiliency training into every leader training program and is creating a “master resiliency trainer” position with the goal of putting one such trainer into every battalion by next year.

            That is one of the Army’s responses to the rising suicide rate and increased cases of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

            While continuing to fight the current conflicts, the Army also must adapt for future wars that will be “fundamentally different than what I was trained to fight,” Casey said.

            Because they cannot predict the future, “versatility has to be the central organizational framework of our Army,” he said.           

            The Army also has to be deployable, expeditionary and precise enough to be lethal.

            Building on the successful shift to modular force structure, the Army will be a tailorable mix force of networked and versatile unit, Casey said.

            He stressed the importance of an integrated network that will allow soldiers to know where they are, where enemy is, and when they shoot at them, they know when they hit.

            Another  key element, Casey said, was putting the Army on a rotational schedule, that puts units through a predictable cycle of train and equip, deploy and reset.

            That would provide a pool of forces trained and ready to deploy.

            “It will cause significant internal conflict inside the Army,” he said.

            As part of the Army’s modernization effort, after the cancellation of the manned ground combat vehicle of the Future Combat System program, Casey said the Army was focusing on “building in five to seven years an infantry fighting vehicle, that is built from the ground up to fight in an IED environment.”

            Although many people say that will be hard to do, Casey said be believed it could be done.

By Otto Kreisher
for AUSA

Chiarelli: Culture change in Army will help troubled soldiers 

            Changing the culture of the Army will lead soldiers with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and traumatic brain injuries (
TBI) to seek out the help they need, said Gen. Peter W. Chiarelli, vice chief of staff, during a panel discussion on “Army Campaign for Health Promotion, Risk Reduction and Suicide Prevention.”

            That help, in turn, may bring down the Army’s suicide rate, which has doubled at the same time the suicide rate in the U.S. has remained relatively stable, according to Brig. Gen. Colleen L. McGuire, head of the Army’s suicide prevention task force. Additionally, the Army is projecting that the number of suicides for this year will be 150, surpassing last year’s total of 140.

            “Now, 140 suicides in a population of over 700,000 soldiers doesn’t seem like a great deal,” McGuire said at the Oct. 6 event. “But one is really too many.”

            PTSD and TBI , which Chiarelli called the “signature wounds” of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, “are real wounds, as real as if you fell down and broke your leg, cut an artery, lost an arm.” Chiarelli also said that 30 percent of soldiers deployed to war zones suffer some form of PTSD.
Gen. Peter W. Chiarelli, vice chief of staff, speaks
during a panel discussion on “Army Campaign for
Health Promotion, Risk Reduction and Suicide Prevention" at the AUSA Annual Meeting.

            Treatment is available, Chiarelli noted, but soldiers may believe they will be stigmatized and so they avoid getting that help. Chiarelli also said studies have shown that command climate plays a huge role in determining whether soldiers are going to have problems with PTSD.

            As for TBI, Chiarelli said that the overwhelming majority of people fully recover after a concussive event. However, the danger lies in receiving another one before fully recovering from the first. Additionally, a study of National Football League players that was conducted by the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research found that multiple concussive events can cause permanent damage. The culture of the Army, Chiarelli noted, may lead soldiers who suffer from concussive events to return to duty before they have fully recovered. 

            “I think it’s about time, after eight years of war, that we as leaders understand that these [PTSD and TBI] wounds are as serious as the wounds we can see,” Chiarelli said. “These are wounds we can’t see. But the consequences for us and our soldiers are huge. “

Staffing Issues

            During the panel discussion, Brig. Gen. Jeffrey C. Horne, director of the Human Resources Policy Directorate, noted that rates of substance abuse, divorce, and motorcycle accidents and fatalities are also on the rise in the Army. And while programs are in place to help troubled soldiers and their families, most are only about 63 percent manned. “We have to fix that,” Horne said, adding that the Army is recruiting nationally for drug and alcohol counselors.

            Horne said that in conversations he has had with Army family members during the AUSA Annual Meeting and Exposition, they have told him, “We don’t need a bunch of big, glossy programs. We just need the ones that you have to work, to be resourced,  and when I leave one post to go to the next, it’s the same one and I don’t have to relearn it.”

            Horne also said the Army has seen an increase in the number of soldiers seeking treatment for drug and alcohol problems, and in the number of reported sexual assaults. However, these can be considered positive developments, Horne said, because it means soldiers are stepping forward to seek help and report problems.

By Laura S. Jeffrey
for AUSA


Petraeus sees progress in Afghanistan, Iraq

            The security situations in Iraq and Afghanistan are challenging but show significant signs of progress, Central Command commander Gen. David Petraeus said in a wide-ranging overview of his area of operations that also included his assessment of Iran, Pakistan and Somali piracy.

            In Iraq, where Petraeus was the commanding U.S. general until a year ago, he said the country has seen “very substantial progress” but also faces significant obstacles. The number of security incidents has decreased significantly even in the last two weeks, he said, down to about 15 to 20 attacks a day, which is “vastly reduced” from a high of 180 attacks per day in June 2007.

Gen. David Petraeus, commander of U.S. Central Command,
speaks at the AUSA Annual Meeting in which he discussed the situation in
Afghanistan and Iraq.

            Speaking Oct. 6 at the Association of the United States Army’s Annual Meeting and Exposition, Petraeus attributed the decline to the additional troops from the “surge” in U.S. forces there that he oversaw. Violent civilian deaths totaled 200 to 250 last month, the lowest since the U.S. started recording such data, he said.

            The surge also allowed the United States to repair electrical infrastructure and oil pipelines, and that has allowed electricity production to increase 30 percent over the last year, and oil exports over the last year have been “the highest on record for a very long time.”

            All of that has increased the public perception of security in Iraq, Petraeus said. That perception “took a nosedive” during the spike of sectarian violence in 2006 and 2007, but it now has rebounded, and between 74 and 84 percent of Iraqis see the security situation in their area as good or very good, which Petraeus said surprised even him. “There were times in late spring 2007 where I would not necessarily have bet on that,” he said.

            On Afghanistan, the White House is now the middle of a strategy review, in which  Petraeus is participating. The top commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, has publicly called for more troops to be sent there, but speaking Oct.5  at the AUSA event, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said that military leaders should give their advice “candidly but privately.”

            Petraeus said that McChrystal's assessment is that the situation in Afghanistan is “serious but doable, and that is an assessment we agree with,” adding that Afghanistan requires “a sustained, substantial commitment. I'm not going to get into whether that means more or less or what number of forces, enablers, trainers and civilians.”

            But Petraeus noted that the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan has increased from about 30,000 to 68,000 in recent months and “that has enabled some tactical gains” in the areas in which security had been especially bad, such as Helmand and Kandahar.

            Also, Petraeus said it is a consensus opinion that the number of soldiers in the Afghanistan National Army needed to be increased, probably to an end strength of about 400,000.

            Overall, the trend of the military situation is “much more uneven than in Iraq. But despite the difficult military situation, Petraeus highlighted some gains in the social sphere. For example, access to health care has increased from five percent to 85 percent during the U.S. presence in Afghanistan, elementary school education has tripled and telephone use has increased “astronomically.”

            In Pakistan, Petraeus said that the government's new efforts to take on extremists near the Afghan border is a “heartening development,”and that people in Pakistan increasingly recognize that Islamist militants represent an “existential threat” to their country. But he noted that India still is generally seen as more of a threat than the Taliban. “There are still some dynamics there that are challenging to say the least, but along with that... heartening progress.”

            The United States is providing Pakistan a “substantial amount of assistance” as well as training some troops, and also said the commitment to Pakistan needed to be long-term.

            Petraeus said that countries in the region increasingly mistrust Iran.

            “The best recruiting agent for CENTCOM in our area of responsibility, in the Gulf region in particular, is Iran, because of their very harsh rhetoric, their worrisome, malign activities in training, equipping, funding and directing in many cases Shi’ite militias in Iraq.” Also causing concern about Iran are its support for Lebanese Hezbollah, Hamas, western Afghan Taliban and its missile development program.

            While piracy in the waters around Somalia spiked between 2008 and early 2009, the number of pirate attacks has been reduced over the last five to six months, due mainly to the increased presence of foreign ships patrolling the area. Those ships include not only U.S. ships but Russian, Chinese and even Iranian, he said.

By Josh Kucera
for AUSA

Relevance to drive DoD acquisition: Vice Chairman

            As the United States plans for its future defense strategy, the focus on acquiring new equipment will be driven more by relevance to the types of conflict the nation is fighting now, adaptability and affordability, said Marine Gen. James Cartwright, USMC, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.  Cartwright was the guest speaker at the Sustaining Member Luncheon at the AUSA Annual Meeting on Oct. 7.

        Previous defense planning has relied on the assumption that preparing for a war against a strong peer competitor would also prepare the United States for war against any other competitor. But the experience of Iraq and Afghanistan has shown that those sorts of wars require their own sort of preparation.

         “So the question we're asking ourselves is not, can we not afford to not address the most dangerous, but should the balance be adjusted to the fights that we're really in, the challenges that we really have. And if so, how much of an adjustment and what does that look like?” he said.

            He especially lauded unmanned aerial vehicles for their relevance, saying that UAVs are “quantum leaps from what we had before” because of the low cost and constant availability.
Marine Gen. James Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint
Chiefs of Staff, talks with Gen. Gordon R. Sullivan, USA, Ret.,
AUSA president, prior to the vice chairman's speech at the sustaining member luncheon at AUSA's Annual Meeting.

            By “adaptability,” Cartwright said the military had to get away from big-ticket, state-of-the-art systems and cumbersome acquisition processes.

            “Unfortunately I see this time and time again: the studies to decide what it is you need start costing ore than the end item itself. The time it costs to produce them exceeds the time of relevance of the system, on a pretty regular basis,” he said.

            New systems will have to be able to be cheaply and quickly upgraded, he said, giving the example of upgrading software on UAVs that dramatically increase the effectiveness of the systems without a lot of time or money. “It's not about the things, it's about networking together a broad array of capabilities that will give us relevance and adaptability no matter what the enemy does,” he said.

            On affordability, Cartwright said military budgets are likely to be smaller in the future. “The growth that we've had over the last eight to ten years is a thing of the past,” he said. “When we could afford to have and buy some systems that maybe we didn't really need, but we weren't sure so we bought them anyway – those days are gone.”

            He said the Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle recently acquired by the Army was an example of that: “I am a huge fan of the MRAP. But the MRAP is a cost-imposing strategy on us,” he said.

            So the military will have to focus on buying more, cheaper things that can be networked together, he said.

            Also at the luncheon, AUSA presented the John W. Dixon award to Robert Bohn, the chairman and CEO of Oshkosh Corporation.

            “America's army is truly the strength of the nation and Oshkosh Corp is proud to be here and proud to be part of the Army team,” Bohn said in accepting the award. “Our employees know that every day when they go to work they are making a difference in someone's life. They are building American-made vehicles that will protect someone's son, daughter, husband, wife, father or mother and potentially save someone's life.

Trust Between Components, Services at Highest Level: FORSCOM Commander   

“The condition of trust that exists today is the highest that I have ever seen in my 39 years” in the Army, the commanding general of Forces Command said at a special dinner before the opening at the Association of the United States Army’s Annual Meeting.

                Speaking Oct. 3 at the 11th National Guard/ Army Reserve dinner, Gen. Charles Campbell said that was true of the components, the services and special and conventional forces.

                He said, in part, in part this was the realization to meet the requirements of Operation Iraqi Freedom 2 that “the active Army did not have at 482,000 enough assets … to meet the combatant commander’s requirement.”

                At the same time, the Army began moving to modular formations  centered on brigades rather divisions.  Campbell said that by 2011 the Army will have modularized 299 brigades.  It was also establishing the Army Force Generation model to provide “access a greater part of the Army” for future deployments.

                “ARFORGEN has existed for only three years” and is based on a rotational model of reset/train-ready and available rather than a linear model. The model calls for an active unit to be available for a year with two years of dwell time.  For the reserve components, it calls for one year of availability with four or five years of dwell time. About 90,000 reserve component soliders have been mobilized annually under the model since 2006.

                For the reserve components, the changes meant a shift from a strategic reserve to an operational reserve. Campbell said that mobilization policies need to be refined to close gaps in completing the shift to an operational force.

                Campbell said this means synchronizing  the Army’s organization, modernization efforts, equipping, training and deploying and reset.  “It is a flexible process.”

                The Army is also rebalancing  the active and reserve forces by retraining, for example, artillerymen as military police to meet new conditions

                He said, “There’s not an Army in the world that can do that kind of deployment and honor the covenant with the American people. “ 

TRADOC commander calls ‘ability to adapt’ key to military  power

Gen. Martin Dempsey commanding general of the Training
and Doctrine Command speaking at the annual AUSA Annual
Meeting on Oct. 5.

         The commanding general of the Training and Doctrine Command said, “Military power in this century will be defined by the ability to adapt” to changing scenarios and environments.

         Speaking on October 4th to Association of the United States Army chapter leaders, Gen. Martin Dempsey described four emerging trends: the certainty of uncertainty, the increasingly rapid pace of change, competitiveness (“think Hezbollah, the Israelis fought a militia as well trained, as well equipped as any state and embedded in a nation state”) and decentralization (“think al-Qaeda” and “to defeat a network, you have to be a network.  We have to aggregate power.”)

            This leads to an Army Capstone Concept, he said that affects its modernization and leadership strategies and provides for soldiers and their families from 2017 to 2028.               

The nature of warfare is not stand-off or totally relying on advances in technology, Dempsey said.  “Technology enables.”

                In leader development, “We have got to train educate and provide experiences” to make them more adaptive. “We’ve got to replicate complexity in the training base.”

                On modernization, Dempsey said, “I believe personally we ought to think about re-designing ourselves every five years.” Adding, “We can’t predict the future” and it makes sense to align modernization efforts to five- to six-year budget cycle.  “This way we can provide incremental change—not just in equipment.”

                The chapter leader’s dinner was held before the opening of AUSA’s 55th Annual Meeting and exposition in Washington.


SMA: Army’s strength rests in its people

             The sergeant major of the Army recounted the stories of two reserve component soldiers to illustrate the importance of noncommissioned officers to the Army at a special National Guard/Army Reserve breakfast before the opening of the Association of the United States Army’s Annual Meeting Oct. 5.

             Sgt. Maj. of the Army Kenneth Preston, speaking for the fourth time to the breakfast attendees, said, “We are the best in the world because of people.  We intend to keep it that way.”

             He said this year 2009 is the Year of the Noncommissioned Office and it provides a means to demonstrate “the unmatched skills in defending the nation.”

             Quoting Gen. George Casey, chief of staff, he said, “NCOs have been the glue that held the organization together” as the nation enters its ninth year of war.”


USAREUR commander calls for fundamental changes in leader development system

             The Army's leader development system must fundamentally change to accurately reflect the new operational environment soldiers face today, said Gen. Carter Ham, commanding general of U.S. Army Europe and the Seventh Army.

            “I think we need to modify our leader development strategies in many ways, to fundamentally change how we train and educate our future leaders for an uncertain future,” said Ham, speaking at the ROTC Luncheon at the Association of the United States Army Annual Meeting on Oct. 5. “In this era of persistent conflict, what the Army requires of its junior officers today is in many ways markedly different from at any other point in our history.”

             Ham said that while the Army has gained a great amount of experience over the last eight years of conflict, it is important to emphasize training and education, as well.

            Our leader development framework is based on three pillars: training, education and experience. Our challenge today in the Army is, how do we get those three efforts, those three pillars, back in balance? Our Army has been riding on hard-fought experience with eight years of combat behind us and persistent conflict ahead of us. I would argue that now is the time to rebalance education and training with experience,” he said.

            “The challenge, of course, is how to do that... when the tempo of operations remains so high?” he asked. One way would be to try to more closely replicate the operating environment that soldiers experience today.

             “Our junior leaders deployed today have access to capabilities that we cannot currently replicate in the training base: vehicles, equipment, intelligence just to name a few,” he said. “If we are truly to develop leaders for the future security environment, we have to ensure that the training, the scrimmage if you will, is harder than the real game. We have difficulty doing that now with the way we are equipped in our Army. We need to continually adapt our training centers to reflect the expected complexities of future conflict.”

            He contrasted his days of training as a junior officer, which were narrowly focused on battle drills, with the more complex operating environment of today. “Junior leaders at all levels need to consolidate tactical and operational opportunities into strategic aims to be able to effectively transition from one form of operations to another quite seamlessly and quite rapidly. Our education system must develop leaders who will thrive in this complex environment,” he said.

            Not withstanding the need to update officer training, many things about leadership remain the same,  Ham said.  “Although much must change, I would also argue that it's important to remember that there are enduring truths about leadership that don't change over time,” including the importance of character, leading by example and reliance on noncommissioned officers.

Military Family Forum I:  Army Families: The Strength Behind the Soldier

            Gen. George W. Casey, Jr., Army chief of staff, reaffirmed the Army’s commitment to its military families and its continuing dedication to meeting the familial needs of an all-volunteer force that has been engaged in eight years of persistent conflict.

            Casey, along with Secretary of the Army John McHugh and Army Sgt. Major Kenneth O. Preston re-signed the Army Family Covenant before a 600-person audience, mainly comprised of over 500 family readiness group leaders from around the country at the first family forum of the Association of the United States Army’s Annual Meeting and Exposition.

            Before he invited feedback on the effectiveness of its family programs from the audience, Casey cited changes that the Army has made to support its soldiers and families. Today, the Army has 44 active brigade combat teams compared to 33 in 2004. The increase in the number of personnel has allowed the Army to move closer to its objective of lengthening the time at home between deployments for its active duty, Reserve and Guard troops.

            Two years ago, the Army also doubled its budget for family programs. It has been able to sustain the higher level of funding to continue to provide a broad array of programs and services for soldiers and their families.

            “We are much better postured now than we were two years ago to accept an additional commitment of active forces,” Casey said, Oct. 5 referring to the possibility that more troops might be called for in the near future to serve in Afghanistan.

             Casey then asked his audience to vote with a show of hands on its satisfaction with the Army’s effectiveness in five areas: standardizing family programs and services across installations, increasing accessibility to quality health care, improving soldier and family housing, providing excellent schools, childcare and youth services, and expanding educational and employment opportunities for family members.

            The Army’s ability to help family members with their education and employment received the most positive reaction from the audience.

            “We’re moving; it’s a jagged line, but going up,” was Casey’s summation of the audience’s feedback on the Army’s delivery of its family programs and services. “We’ll just keep pushing it,” he said.

            Sheila Casey, whose remarks preceded her husband’s, also stressed that families are the Army’s first priority. She noted that First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden, a Blue Star Mother, both have shown great support for military families. The audience, mostly military wives, clapped and cheered warmly when Mrs. Casey told them that military family caregivers needed to find time for themselves to create balance in their lives.

            Lynn S. Heirakuji, deputy assistant for personnel oversight, reported on the preliminary results of a large-scale survey that examined how well the Army provides programs and services to geographically dispersed personnel.

            More than 5000 survey respondents indicated that they did not find large gaps in the services offered by the Army for military families, but that greater awareness of and access to programs is needed. As the distance from installations increases, the difficulty of obtaining information also climbs for military families, especially Guard and Reserve families, who are often unsure whether or not they are eligible for Army programs.

            Although the Internet is proving to be a boon for geographically dispersed families, important sites for military families such as TRICARE and Army One Source were reported to be confusing and difficult to use.

            “Face-to-face contact is preferred,” Heirakuji said.

            Kathleen Y. Marin, director of installation services, recently conducted town hall meetings at six sites to ascertain what programs are making a difference for Army families and where improvements in services need to be made.

            She found highly valued programs included: deployment respite childcare, military family life consultants and the Strong Bonds program. Echoing Heirakuji’s findings, town hall participants said they prefer one-to-one, confidential and personally targeted services. They particularly wanted to see improvements in the online registration process for children and youth services.

            Marin, along with Brig. Gen. Allison T. Aycock, installation management command, and Brig. Gen. Reuben D. Jones, family and morale, welfare and recreation command, conducted a mini town hall meeting at the conclusion of the day’s military family forum. Their responses to audience members’ suggestions and comments will be posted on the Army One Source site: >>

To see presentations from Military Family Fourm I, held on 5 October 2009, click here.

By Susan M. Sipprelle
for AUSA

Army moves out on combat vehicle modernization

            In response to Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ order to dramatically revamp the Future Combat System, the Army is moving forward with a program called the Brigade Combat Team Modernization program, a panel of senior Army officers told an Association of the United States Army forum Oct. 5.

            The program is converting the effort to “spin out” FCS technologies into a “capabilities package” concept, but also is working to acquire a “single network solution,” by integrating current and future networks, to bring the existing MRAP vehicles into the force and to develop a ground combat vehicle that “will meet the needs of today and tomorrow,” Lt. Gen. Stephen Speakes, the deputy chief of staff, G-8, told the forum on Army Modernization, Post-FCS.

            At the same time, the Army must reset the mass of equipment being withdrawn from Iraq, Speakes told the overflow crowd.

            “We are simultaneously resetting, upgrading, and modernizing,” he said.

            But Maj. Gen. Robert Lennox, who is Speakes designated replacement, warned that the defense budget appears to be flattening, while requirements, medical costs, military pay and the expense of infrastructure improvements the Army has promised its families are growing.

             “Declining resources will have an impact on us,” Lennox said, which will force the Army to “focus on what’s really important, and what’s not.”

            Lt. Gen. Michael Vane, director of Army Capabilities Integration Center at the Training and Doctrine Command, said the concepts and programs were developed based on lessons learned from eight years of war, from several modernization projects and from information from soldiers recently returned from war, the Army acquisition corps, other services and key allies.

            What they have learned is that providing protective capability in a future combat vehicle is primary, there is a need to avoid predictable routes, which means some off-road capability and “the need for a combat vehicle that can operate in a complex environment,” including urban areas, Vane said. That will means the new  vehicle will need to grow in “size, weight and computational capability.”

            The vehicle also must provide command and control on the move and with dismounted soldiers, he said on the opening day of AUSA’s Annual Meeting and Exposition.

            On developing the network, Vane said they were surprised to learn that soldiers and commanders in the field were more concern with improving connectivity than getting the ability to move large volumes of data.

            “We must close the gap battalion and below,” he said.

            Maj. Gen. John Bratley, program executive officer for Integration, formerly the PEO for FCS, said they have produced a proposal for the new ground combat vehicle, which must be approved by the Joint Requirements Oversight Council and then the joint staff.

            “The idea is to have an acquisition decision by the end of this year” and a draft request for proposals to industry next August.

            An industry day on the program is scheduled for next week in Michigan and a second one later this year in Florida, Bratley said.

            Although details on the new vehicle are not set, Vane listed some of the attributes they are seeking, including MRAP-type protection against IEDs, but scalable protection that can be adjusted for other combat conditions, “mobility, as good as our Bradleys and Abrams can deliver today in off road,” and lower fuel consumption.

            They also will be modernizing existing vehicles as well as buying new, he said.

            The capabilities packages being developed will put FCS spin off technologies and other capabilities into the brigade combat teams first, then into other brigades, Vane said. They will include “non-material solutions,” including training, he added.

            The plan is to have the ability to upgrade capabilities on a two-year cycle, rather than the current four years.

            “Army modernization may shift to buying less, more often, to allow us to respond to changes,” Vane said.

            Also, “strategy and risk assessment must drive procurement, not the other way around,” he said.

            Lt. Gen. Ross Thompson, director of the Army Acquisition Corps, said the Army is responding to orders from the Congress and Gates’ office to greatly expand its depleted acquisition work force and plans to add 2,000 new workers and to in-source 4,000 jobs currently contracted out.

            Speakes summed up the presentation by saying that while the Army has challenges, “we have profited from the hard-won lessons of war.”

            One of those lessons is that there is no certainty about the future, he noted.

            “What we’re looking at is an Army that must continuously adapt its modernization strategy” to become a “versatile, flexible force.”

By Otto Kreisher
for AUSA

Army being proactive in building resilience in soldiers, families

            Taking a proactive stance on psychological hardships caused by repeated deployments, the Army is rolling out a long-term program to build resilience in soldiers as well as in Army civilians and family members.

            The goal of the Comprehensive Soldier Fitness program is to develop strengths in five areas: physical, emotional, social, spiritual and family. Brig. Gen. Rhonda Cornum, director of Comprehensive Soldier Fitness in the Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff, said the resilience-building program teaches psychological skills so that people “will see challenges as temporary, not permanent” as well as “local, not global. In other words, if you break your leg, that doesn’t mean you’re unlovable, unsexy, and  you’re going to do badly in work,” she said. “That means you’re going to have to work a little bit harder to get back in shape.”

            Cornum also said the program will help people recognize that “challenges can be changed by your own effort -- that you are not a helpless victim. Even if someone has taken away every opportunity you have to make a decision for yourself, they can’t take away what you think. So it teaches people to find what [they] can change, and work on that.”

            The program will be mandatory for all soldiers, including reservists and National Guard members, and will be available for any family member or Army civilian who wishes to participate. It starts with a global self-assessment tool, the results of which are seen only by the assessment taker. He or she is then cued to modules that focus on any areas in which there are individual deficiencies. The modules were developed in association with top mental health experts at the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Florida, among others.

            Lt. Gen.  James D. Thurman, deputy chief of staff, noted that the program is not a “one-shot” deal. Participants continue to take self-assessments and work on cued models throughout their career, “from when you get in to whenever you get out,” he said. “ It’s not a single event.  We want to take people when they come into the Army, and we want to start giving them the necessary …skills so they can cope with things when there’s adversity, whether it be at home, whether it be at work - you name it,” he said.

            Cornum said that “just like you don’t become physically fit by one trip to the gym, you will not become psychologically fit by a one-hour course of anything.” She also compared resilience-building to marathon training. “The time to train is before” the race, she said, “and you should …do things incrementally challenging along the way. So the time to [resilience] train is not in that one week or one month before deployment. We are intending to train people incrementally, and in larger and larger challenges from where they start.”

            The program also calls for drill sergeants, platoon sergeants and other midlevel leaders to complete a Master Resiliency Trainer program so that they can instill resiliency in their subordinates. Cornum noted that feedback the Army has received shows soldiers are “very, very adamant that they want people teaching this that look like them, talk like them, and do what they have done. … So we are committed to having [training] be done at this noncommissioned officer level.”  

            According to Cornum, the global assessment tool has already been completed by about 20,000 people. The program officially began Oct. 1.  Presently, the Master Resiliency Trainer program will be held at the University of Pennsylvania, but plans are for the Training and Doctorate Command to establish its own program, at Fort Jackson, S.C., by April.    

            Comprehensive Solder Fitness “is one of the most important programs we’ve introduced in a long time,”  Army Chief of Staff Gen. George W. Casey Jr.  said in remarks before introducing the panel members.  

             He noted that he initially wondered if the program were “too touchy-feely for the Army” and while some people thought it was, the overwhelming majority saw the program’s value not only in their military career, but in their personal life as well.

NCO Soldier

            Sgt. 1st Class Aaron Beckman, U.S. Army Europe Command, was named NCO of the Year, and Spc. Clancey Henderson, U.S. Army Forces Command, Soldier of the Year on Oct. 5 at the 2009 Association of the United States Army’s Annual Meeting.

            Their awards came after six days at Fort Lee, Va., in the annual Best Warrior Competition where they were pitted against other representatives from the Army’s major commands.  There were 24 total competitors – 12 each of soldiers and NCOs.

            “Now that I’m here, I’m awestruck, to be honest,” Henderson said in a press conference just after the announcement.  “They had some really great competitors out there, the best the Army has to offer.”

            Before announcing the winners, Sgt. Maj. of the Army Kenneth O. Preston said the competition was a tribute to the first sergeants and company commanders who promote self fulfillment and self study as the early stages of the competition begin with the NCO and soldier of the month boards.

            Beckman, who has been in the Army for 12 years and was one of the oldest competing, said when he first met his younger competitors, he knew he would have to step up his game.

            “I was pretty nervous,” he said.  “When I started talking to them, they were all really well developed, they were trained and they understand what they’re supposed to be doing.  I was like, ‘Wow, these are young soldiers.’  I was looking down at the service stripes on their left sleeve and I’m seeing zero or one … I have four.

            “Everything they did, I tried to do one better.  I may not have been able to all the time, but it was me just giving 100 percent.  And them doing their best just helped me out.”

           Preston said the events in the competition have evolved not only in testing the NCOs and soldiers but giving them something to bring back to the soldiers in their home units.

            “There are going to be soldiers assigned to me, and I’m going to make sure I prepare them not just to be somebody that can compete in a competition but somebody that can be effective in the battlefield and be able to take care of their own soldiers as they progress throughout their career,” said Beckman, who has been instructing combatives at the 7th Army NCO Academy at Grafenwoehr, Germany, but whose MOS is a combat engineer.

            Also, with combatives as the final event, Beckman, who towered over most the competitors, had one of the more awkward tasks of fighting the smallest NCO in the competition, Sgt. Sarah Haskins, U.S. Space and Missile Defense Command.  He didn’t want to make it look easy with a quick victory, but he began to worry that “I would get stuck in something I couldn’t get out.

            “Nevertheless, she still had that warrior ethos,” he said.  “She wanted to close the distance with the enemy, try to gain a dominant position to finish the fight.  She attacked and did what she needed to do, but of course, I had to do what I had to do.”

            Beckman said that as he was progressing through the unit- and command-level boards, he encouraged other soldiers to compete as well, and they fed off each other as they, too, began winning.

            “My achievements are their achievements,” he said.  “I wouldn’t be here without them.”

            Since he has been named NCO of the Year, he said there will be the added pressure of setting a good example and he will have to be “twice as cognizant” in maintaining standards and appearances.

            Beckman is married with three children, and he’s originally from Venango, Neb.  In 2003, he deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

            For Henderson, he considered the physical fitness test his best event, and he blazed around the two-mile course in the fastest time in the history of the competition.

            “My parents have always encouraged me to put forth every effort that I can,” he said.  “In the Army, they emphasize PT a lot, and obviously that’s something I really get behind.  You get up in the morning, you exercise and you feel good.  Those days that you don’t do your exercise, you kind of feel sluggish.”

            Self-described as soft spoken and shy, he thought his weakness would be the board appearance Monday in front of Preston and six command sergeant majors, but he came up with a new approach before opening the door and marching in front of the senior NCOs.

            “Every board I’ve ever come out of, the sergeants major have told me to speak up,” said Henderson, who has been in the Army only two years.  “Going into this board, I thought I shouldn’t be nervous, I’d done this before.  These people aren’t here to critique me or find fault with me; they’re here to figure out who I am.”

            He found himself full of confidence, “and my concerns were swept under the rug.”

            Henderson said it was “odd” when he heard the sergeants major of the Army call his name.  He had built up friendships over the week with the other soldiers competing, and he was excited for them as well in the buildup to Preston’s announcement.

            “I’m absolutely humbled and honored to have known them for that week,” Henderson said.  “I made some really good friends.”

            Throughout the competition, Henderson said he had the mentality to do his best and not get down on himself if something didn’t go as expected.

            “I don’t get down on myself if I fail at something,” Henderson said.  “I look at it as an opportunity to assess myself, see what I did wrong and get back at it.”

            Henderson said winning the award will change the way he approaches his job as an intelligence analyst with the 1st Infantry Division at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo.

           “I’ve learned a lot preparing for the competition and participating,” he said.  “I see the Army a little bit more broadly now, how it functions and what role I play.  So going in with that understanding will definitely affect how I work and how I approach my work.”

           Henderson is originally from Longmont, Colo.

           Additional events the soldiers and NCOs competed in included day and night land navigation, warrior tasks and battle drills, M-4 range competition, and the infamous “mystery event” which is kept secret until the morning of the final day.  This year it included emergency trauma, a hostage rescue and Humvee rollover procedures.

           “You come to the competition to demonstrate what you are capable of and how well your command has trained you and overall what the Army expects of its soldiers,” Henderson said.

Leader Development

            The Army is working to adapt its leader education system to adapt to the new operational environment the service finds itself in, Army leaders have said.

            The Army is working on a new Army Leader Development Strategy that will address four broad emerging trends that affect the military environment, said Gen. Martin Dempsey, the commander of Training and Doctrine Command. Those are: uncertainty, an increasing pace of change, the higher levels of competitiveness of the Army's enemies, and increasing decentralization. The issue of leader development, he said, is “the most important topic we face as an Army.”

            The strategy will have four “annexes,” dealing respectively with officers, non-commissioned officers, warrant officers and civilian Army employees, said Brig. Gen. Edward Cardone, the deputy commandant of the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College. But each of those components will follow the same eight “imperatives” guiding the Army's leadership development: a commitment by the Army to lifelong learning; a balance of training, education and experience; outcomes-based education; coordination with the Army force generation system; managing different types of talent in the Army; replication of the complexity of the battlefield in the classroom and home base; a focus on mentoring; and development of leaders to operate at the highest levels of the U.S. government.

           The new strategy will ultimately be implemented at every level in Professional Military Education. They were speaking Oct. 6 at the Association of the United States Army’s Annual Meeting and Exposition.

            The Army is now prioritizing education, in spite of some who argue that it is less necessary because of the large amount of wartime experience most soldiers now possess. But that is still only part of what a soldier needs to know, said Maj. Gen. Sean Byrne, the commander of Human Resources Command. “They are doing a phase, a portion, they're doing COIN [counterinsurgency]. But they're not doing the full spectrum,” he said.

            Many soldiers lack the education they should have at this stage in their careers: Byrne said that about 59,000 NCOs have missed educational opportunities because of high operations tempo, leaving them “a step or two behind” where they should be.

            For the first time, Professional Military Education will be extended to civilian employees of the army, not just to officers and enlisted soldiers.

             “The way we used to think about the generating force was that it was that stable, relatively straightforward organization that produced things on very long timelines to support the operating army, which did most of the adaptation.” said Volney Warner, commandant of the U.S.
Army Civilian University. “You've got a system designed to build functional competency, it was all about depth and all about stability.
In the future, it has to be more about a functional competency base that forms a basis for individuals to adapt, to have lifelong learning, to continue to improve their skills and contributions and lead in new and different environments.”

            Some things that are already being done to that end are the consolidation of Senior Executive Service training strategy that will eventually be expanded to include the rest of the civilian workforce; the creation of an Army Fellows program that selects promising civilian employees and accelerating their career advancement; and the Army Civilian University at TRADOC, Warner said.

            The process for reforming the education for warrant officers is “almost complete,” said Col. Mark Jones, commandant of Warrant Officer Career College. Starting in Fiscal Year 2011, the senior levels of education for the CW3, CW4 and CW5 will change from a “poorly focused four-week course” to a five-week course focusing on leadership, knowledge management and project management, counterinsurgency and working in multinational environments. The warrant officer senior staff course will be expanded from two weeks that were at “too low a level” to a new four-week course that includes topics like policy, strategy, globalization, media relations.

            The courses for NCOs are being expanded to incorporate more of the context in which military actions take place, said Command Sgt. Maj. Raymond Chandler, the commandant of the U.S. Army Sergeants Major Academy. And a revised Advanced Leader Course (Common Core) debuted Oct. 1 and is “a completely new way of delivering information to officers,” Chandler said. The BNCOC will change to a 90-day Internet-based course “very similar to an online college course,” he said.

Versatility stressed to meet 21st century warfare

            The Army of the 21st century must be, above all, versatile enough to meet the changing and unpredictable security challenges and must be put on a rotational basis and an operational tempo that can be sustained by the all volunteer force in an era of persistent conflict, a panel of senior Army officers told an AUSA contemporary military forum Tuesday.


Maj. Gen. Kevin Leonard, U.S. Army Materiel Command deputy
chief of staff for logistics and operations, said during a forum at the
AUSA Annual Meeting that i
n the next year, the Army is going to reset
about 51 brigade combat team equipment sets
          The Army has made a significant number of changes to meet the new demands, including shifting to modular brigades that are flexible and tailorable to meet the unexpected, adding end strength and adopting a new force generation policy to reduce the strain on the force, and changing the way it will buy equipment to modernize the force, the officers from the Army staff and the Training and Doctrine (TRADOC), Materiel and Forces commands said.

          “It is clear to me, after eight years of war, we have to get on a rotational cycle and build a mix of tailorable, flexible forces that are trained for the full spectrum of operations,” which includes combat, stability, training and civil support missions, Lt. Gen. James Thurman, the deputy chief of staff for operations and training, said.

            “We have to be able to hedge against the unexpected contingencies,” and “whatever we come up with has to be a tempo that’s sustainable by the all volunteer force,” Thurman said.

            Maj. Gen. Mark Graham, director of operations for Materiel Command, explained that the rotational concept, which is similar to the operational cycle used by the Navy and Marine Corps, has  replaced the old Cold War “linear” structure, in which some units were trained and ready for rapid deployment while others would need time to be ready.

            Under the rotational cycle, units will go through a training and equipping period, then a deployment, followed by a reset phase, Graham explained. When the Army can get to the desired operational tempo of two years at home for every year deployed, each of the three phases in the rotational cycle will be one year, he said.

            This is not the “tiered” readiness of the old linear structure, Graham emphasized. “Units know when they are going to be deployed” and will “ratchet up in readiness” in time.

            The cycle is managed under a new Army Force Generation (ARFORGEN) model that he said “allows us to see the challenges and respond” in time. It also allows the Army to begin planning before the unit deploys for how it will be reset when it returns, so the new equipment and personnel show up at the right time.

            Brig. Gen. Dana Pittard, operations director at TRADOC, said their emphasis was on getting the “right people at the right time” and to build units “prepared for flexibility.”

            The new cycle has required many changes, including sending mobile training teams to a unit’s home base during the training period to reduce soldiers’ time away between deployments. Over 1,500 mobile teams were sent out this year, compared to only few a year in the past, Pittard said.

            TRADOC also is putting its manuals on line in a Wikipedia model and is adapting officer training programs to provide “adaptable, resourceful and lethal commanders,” he added.

            Maj. Gen. Kevin Leonard, Material Command deputy chief of staff for logistics and operations, said his main responsibility was the reset of Army, an increasing challenge as forces come out of Iraq.

            “In the next year, we’re going to reset about 51 brigade combat team equipment sets,” Leonard said.”We’re prepared.”

            The reset will include replacing some systems, recapitalizing some, and performing depot level maintenance or unit repairs on others, he explained.

            AMC also is working on a project to sustain the force by synchronizing modernization with the training cycle, “to make sure we have the equipment to train,” Leonard said.

            “We have begun an equipping process that is not what most of us grew up with.”

            To achieve their modernization and reset requirements, AMC is partnering with industry, he added.

            Maj. Gen. Gina Farrisee, director of military personnel management for Thurman, said the ARFORGEN model will help provide trained and equipped soldiers and sustain the AVF.

    One of the major complications, Farrisee said was the 13 percent of their soldiers are non-deployable, many because of physical or psychological injuries from the wars.

            Another challenge is the mandate to end stop loss, which the Army and other forces have used to keep deploying units at nearly full manning levels, which can mean as many as 500 soldiers per brigade combat team, she said.

            With the draw down in Iraq and the additional soldiers Defense Secretary Gates has authorized, “we have adopted a policy to eliminate stop loss, and next January, the first active unit will deploy without stop loss.

By Otto Kreisher
for AUSA


Military Family Forum II:  Army Families: Thriving in the Midst of Challenge

Brig. Gen. Reuben D. Jones,
commander of the Family, Morale,
Welfare and Recreation Command,
said as the Army Family Covenant
begins its third year, the Army is
striving to help its soldiers and families develop resilience. 
        “We know that the strength of our Army comes from the strength of our families,” said Brig. Gen. Reuben D. Jones on Oct. 6, at the second of the Association of the United States Army’s three military family forums.

      As the Army Family Covenant kicks off its third year of existence, Jones said that the Army is striving to help its soldiers and families develop resilience – positive adaptation to repeated adversity or trauma.

      Also at the Oct. 6 event, Brig. Gen. Colleen McGuire, director of the Army’s suicide prevention task force, reported on what she called an unfortunate trend -- the steady increase in the rate of Army suicides. In 2008, 140 active duty soldiers committed suicide out of a total active duty population of 700,000. Before 2005, the rate of suicide in the Army was lower than suicide rate in the general population; however, today, the Army suicide rate exceeds the civilian rate.

            The Army has identified a long list of factors that increase the risk of suicide, including: infidelity, alcohol abuse, high-risk driving, multiple drug offenses, use of opiates, sleep deprivation, erratic behavior, compressed dwell times between deployments, undiagnosed PTSD.

            The Army is examining its counseling, drug testing and medical treatment programs to see if they are effective at mitigating those risks and addressing the needs of today’s soldiers.

            Brig. Gen. Rhonda Cornum directs the Army’s new effort to ensure that its soldiers are strong mentally, as well as physically. The effort is called comprehensive soldier fitness.

            “It is essential to intervene in a crisis,” Cornum said about the Army’s suicide prevention programs, “but it’s better to prevent catastrophic thinking that results in a crisis.”

            Most soldiers get through their deployments, she said, but they could overcome mental health difficulties more easily if they had been trained beforehand. Cornum said that training is most needed by the Army’s recent influx of very young soldiers who face the complex array of stressors inherent to warfare in Iraq and Afghanistan. These young soldiers, who enter the Army with varying degrees of mental preparedness, are often asked to accomplish offensive, defensive, stability and civilian support tasks within a very short period of time.

            Comprehensive soldier fitness will be provided for the entire force, beginning this month and will be available in early 2010 for families and civilian employees of the military. The comprehensive effort has four components: an online self-assessment tool, online self-development tools guided by the assessment, resilience training and master resilience training.

            The Army is making a long-term commitment to improving soldiers’ mental health with its new comprehensive soldier fitness, Cornum said.

            Resilience training will help soldiers develop better coping skills – steering them to find ways out of catastrophic, but temporary, crises. The ultimate desired outcome of the training is that most soldiers will find stability, or even growth, after confronting adversity or trauma.

            The next three presenters focused on the benefits available from the Veterans Administration (VA), which are explained in greater detail on its Web site:>>

            Mike Carr, management and program analyst from the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA), explained its five groups of programs:

  • compensation and pension,
  • education, loan guaranty,
  • insurance,
  • vocational rehabilitation and
  • employment.

            Some of these benefits and services are available for active duty soldiers after they have served for 90 days or 180 days prior to separation and pre-discharge, not only veterans.            

            Jennifer Perez, acting chief consultant of the office of patient care services, outlined the nationwide VA network of hospitals, vet centers and outpatient clinics, as well as the special programs for OEF and OIF vets, caregivers and families and the liaison program aimed at coordinating healthcare between the military and the VA.

            Alfonso R. Batres, chief officer of the readjustment counseling service, described the confidential counseling services available for veterans and their families at vet centers and provided contact info:

>> or 866-644-5371

            Preventing caregiver burnout was the subject discussed by Wayne Boswell and Shawn Moon of Franklin Covey. Providing Outreach While Enhancing Readiness (POWER) is a new program for chaplains, teachers, medical providers and others who support soldiers and experience compassion fatigue.

            The presentation by Secretary of the Army John McHugh of the Quality of Life Awards concluded the second military family forum.

To see presentations from Military Family Fourm I, held on 6 October 2009, click here.

By Susan M. Sipprelle
for AUSA

SMA tells president about stress on force, success in recruiting and retention

  Speaking at the AUSA's Annual Meeting, Sgt. Maj. of the Army Kenneth O. Preston discusses with senior NCOs the topics of conversation he had in a meeting at the White House earlier this year with President Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates and the senior enlisted advisors of the other services.

            During a visit to the White House earlier this year, Sgt. Maj. of the Army Kenneth O. Preston told President Obama that stress on soldiers and their families was his primary concern, and the size of the force had a direct impact, but he also used the opportunity to laud the Army’s recruiting and retention rates that have shaped today’s Army           

            Speaking with senior NCOs Oct. 6 at the Association of the United States Army’s Annual Meeting and Exposition,
Preston recalled how after the new administration took office, he and the other senior enlisted advisors from the armed services were called for a special meeting with the president, Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates.

            Preston called the meeting a “very open, candid discussion,” and he reiterated that the deployment cycle, with 15 months deployed for active duty soldiers followed by 12 months down time, is very stressful considering the size of the force right now.

            “I said, ‘Mr. President, what I worry about right now is stress on the force,’” Preston recalled.  “I worry about it not only from a perspective of the operational Army but the Army.”

            Not only does that mean the operational forces that deploy, but it’s the institutional Army as well as soldier families, Preston said.

            “Right now we have over 265,000 soldiers currently deployed to 80 countries around the world,” Preston told the audience.  “It’s no secret that we’re a little bit busy, and there are a lot of little pieces out there right now.  In fact, we have more soldiers deployed right now than we did at the height of the surge in 2007.”

            The active-duty force shrunk from a Cold War high of 780,000 soldiers down to 480,000 after Operation Desert Storm, and only another 2,000 soldiers were added on active duty by the time of 9/11.  But little by little, more soldiers are being authorized to bolster the force.  Five thousand more will be added this year, 10,000 more will be added next year, and another 7,000 more will be added in 2011 if needed.

            The cycle is for soldiers to deploy for 15 months and have 12 months at home before deploying again.  Preston said the schedule for the 12 months of downtime is critical – soldiers should spend the first 90 days being with their families, then the next 90 days should be spent on duty with a strict five-day workweek with minimal overtime.

            He said he had visited units who have returned from deployment and seen soldiers working sometimes until 10 p.m., and he told the senior NCOs in the room that that was not acceptable.

            After the second 90-day period, units start gearing up for deployment again.  They practice warrior tasks and battle drills, conduct exercises at places such as the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, Calif., and the Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Polk, La., and they get equipment ready and packed for deployment.

            Preston said the Army has tried to schedule changes of station within the summer months to ease the transition for families, but now the pace and tempo means soldiers and families are moving at all different times of the year.

            “If you have children who are enrolled in school and have to pull them out in the middle of the school year” and enroll them in a new school, “that creates stress on the force,” Preston said.

            He has been pushing for all the U.S. states and territories to sign the Interstate Compact on Educational Opportunity for Military Children, which would ease the transfer and acceptance of school records from state to state.  Only 11 states have signed the agreement so far, but a lot more have it up as a proposal.

            “As I told the president that for decades we have disadvantaged our military children by moving them from one duty station to another,” Preston said.  “Of course when they get to that new school district, they are disadvantaged because that state doesn’t recognize the education credentials or credits that that child received in another state.”

            The president questioned if the rate of suicides in the Army was related to combat stress, and Preston told him that it had a minimal impact – about one-third of the soldiers who committed suicide had never deployed.  Analysis showed that failed relationships factored into 75 percent of the suicides.

            “Every case is a bizarre set of circumstances, and it’s multiple stressors in most cases,” Preston said.  “For all of us that are first-line supervisors, you may not know about all those stressors that are in a person’s life.”

            But despite the issues with stress and suicides, Preston told the president there was still good news in the cases of retention and recruiting. 

            “Soldiers wouldn’t continue to re-enlist and stay with the team if they didn’t believe in all the missions they were doing or they didn’t want to continue to be part of that band of brothers and sisters,” he said.

            He also noted the efforts “all of you out there who create a command climate where soldiers continue to want to re-enlist,” and that contributed to the Army reaching its retention goal two years ahead of schedule.

            The U.S. Army Recruiting Command has also “kept the pipeline full” of new recruits.

            Preston emphasized to the senior NCOs that a significant portion of a soldier’s growth and development – about 70 percent – happens in operational units. 

            “It’s what we learn on the job,” he said.  “It’s what we gain from mentors every day.  We learn not only from the commanders and superiors that we work for, but we also learn from our peers, and we also learn from our subordinates.”

            Self development and self study, such as monthly and quarterly boards, contribute to the process, and Preston has encouraged battalion commanders to sit on their own boards to look at the questions and overall focus.

            Life in the barracks is also an ideal opportunity for senior NCOs to teach and shape soldiers, Preston said.  For many of those young troops, it’s their first time away from home, and a visit to the barracks can help soldiers with everyday things like laundry and trash.

            Soldiers on average spend about two years living in the barracks, so the education process shouldn’t be forgotten once they move into post housing on or off post.  Preston said a simple visit on a weekend would help NCOs and senior NCOs get a feel for how their soldiers are living at home – if post housing is adequate or if they are living in a bad section of town.

            This part of the education process is something that can’t really be taught at the schoolhouse, Preston said.  No unit has the same demographics, and the lives of soldiers vary across the Army.

            It all starts with the battalion command sergeants major and first sergeants who mentor and lead, he said.  It’s important for them to teach, and that example trickles down to senior NCOs, NCOs and finally younger soldiers.

TRADOC revamps NCO education process

            With the Army going to a unit rotational cycle of 15 months deployed followed 12 months at home, the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) revamped its educational process to accommodate soldiers during their downtime. 

TRADOC Command Sgt. Maj. David Bruner
said NCOs are benefitting from new training initiatives as they are being empowered with more leadership positions and avenues to impact decisions.
        “If you’re deployed for 15 months and your dwell time is going to be 10 to 12 months … you really don’t want to come to one of our schools for 32 weeks,” said Command Sgt. Maj. John Sparks, USA, Ret., TRADOC’s former CSM, during an NCO professional development forum Oct. 6 at the Association of the United States Army’s Annual Meeting and Exposition.  “That’s almost cruel and unusual punishment to come to school during the time you should be spending with your family.”

      Sparks said in an attempt to reduce course lengths, it gave the leaders and educators in TRADOC the opportunity to look across the board at training programs, and they found “we just were not doing the right things.”  Soldiers were in training for too long, and the needs of the home units weren’t being addressed.

            This streamlining of courses TRADOC wide is part of what Sparks called “an historic time to be a noncommissioned officer in the United States Army.”  On the first day of the Annual Meeting,

            TRADOC unveiled the Institute for NCO Professional Development, which will merge and monitor education and career moves for all NCOs into a single system.  

            “We want to incorporate change rapidly, we want to make the things happen that benefit the noncommissioned officer population,” Sparks said.

            Also, earlier this year, Command Sgt. Maj. Ray Chandler was named the first enlisted commandant of the U.S. Army Sergeant Major Academy at Fort Bliss, Texas. 

            “NCOs are taking charge of their own training and their own destiny,” said TRADOC Command Sgt. Maj. David Bruner.  “That’s a huge step forward.”

            Command Sgt. Maj. Jimmie W. Spencer, USA, Ret., director of AUSA NCO and Soldier Programs, noted that 1989 was the first Year of the NCO, and it marked a time of great change in the NCO corps. 

            “What happened then is we focused inwardly and we talked about what it was like to be a noncommissioned officer and a leader in the new Army,” Spencer said.  “In 1989 it really was a new Army because the draft had ended and the techniques and procedures we used had changed considerably.”

            Now 20 years later, it’s appropriate to upgrade and change as NCOs are relied on with more and bigger responsibilities, Spencer said.

            “We have NCOs leading this war, and we have NCOs primarily carrying the load,” he said.

Army revamps training to operate on full spectrum of operations

            The U.S. Army is revamping its training programs to better train soldiers to operate on the full spectrum of operations, from combat to stability operations, according to participants at the panel “Training for Full Spectrum Operations” on Oct. 7 at the Association of the United States Army’s Annual Meeting and Exposition.

            The Army is revising FM 7-0, Training for Full Spectrum Operations, to emphasize the simultaneity of high-intensity and low-intensity conflict. The manual currently uses two METLs (Mission Essential Task Lists) for the two types of conflict, but the new edition will eliminate that division, said Lieutenant General Thomas Miller, the commander of First Army.

            The ongoing overhaul of the training programs are based on four principles put forth by Gen. George Casey, chief of staff of the Army, said Lt. Gen. Thomas Miller, commander of 1st Army. The principles are: to focus training on a few key tasks rather than to try to learn everything; “training smart”and recognizing the importance of rest after a deployment; decentralization of training assets and reducing training overhead at home stations and maximizing the use of mobile training teams.

            Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling, who commanded the 1st Armored Division in northern Iraq in 2008, said that much of the training that soldiers receive now do not prepare them for the challenges they'll face at war. For example, units are expected to help promote the economy in their area of operations, improve governance and rule of law and other similar tasks.

            “Instead of doing staff rides to Gettysburg, we might do staff rides to the city of Cleveland to find out how their operational headquarters works in the police departments, their sewer districts and things like that,” Hertling said. “Pete Chiarelli did that before the [1st Cavalry Division] went to Baghdad; we've got to expand that.”

            Changes are being made to the way that units report on their readiness to better reflect these new priorities. Starting Dec. 15, the AR 220-1, the unit status reporting form, will include data both on how ready the unit is for its core mission (e.g. artillery) and how ready it is for its assigned mission, whether that is convoy support or detainee operations, said Maj. Gen. James Huggins, the director of operations of readiness and mobilization for the office of the deputy chief of staff of the Army G-3/5/7.

            Army training programs are decentralizing and moving to a “hub-and-spoke” system, wherein training equipment will be based at large bases around the country and the world to be used by units at their base, and can be sent to smaller nearby bases as well, said Col. (P) Paul Funk, deputy commander of the Combined Arms Center-Training. And battle command training will have new areas of focus, said  Col. Mark McKnight, commander of the Battle Command Training Program. Those include being better able to identify transitions between high-intensity and low-intensity conflict; identifying major adjustment decisions, such as emerging threats or opportunities (e.g. the emergence of the Sons of Iraq and Anbar Awakening) and the understanding of what is acceptable risk.

            The Army's Warfighter Exercise is also being adapted to better train for full-spectrum operations,  McKnight said. The new model under discussion will start with high-intensity conflict and transition to stability operations, and a focus will be on how the conduct of the high-intensity conflicts has second- and third-order effects that affect how the stability operations will go.

            At a meeting with reporters after the panel, Hertling said that there were some who suggest that the new approach risks creating soldiers who are “jacks of all trades, masters of none,” but that he didn't believe that would be the case. “Do we run that risk? I don't think so, if we focus on some key elements and embed the ability to adapt,” he said. “If you can focus your training on the right things and then adjust based on the scenario of where you find yourself, it's a whole lot better than saying 'this force is only going to train for major combat operations,' because, if you want to not have major combat operations, you can't use that force.”

By Josh Kucera
for AUSA

Opportunities abound in Army civilian workforce

            Plans to grow the civilian work force by 100,000 during the next several years, and to in-source thousands of acquisition jobs that previously were filled by outside contractors, translate to abundant career opportunities in the Army civilian workforce, according to speakers at the “Civilian Professional Development Seminar,” which was held on the final day of the Association of the U.S. Army’s 2009 Annual Meeting and Exposition.

            However, the Army needs to improve how it recruits, hires, manages and retains talented workers, the speakers said.

            Karl Schneider, assistant deputy chief of staff, G-1, noted that almost 300,000 civilians work for the Army.  "The Army could not operate without its civilian corps; it’s as simple as that,” Schneider said, adding that the workforce is larger than the U.S. Marine Corps. Schneider also said civilian workers have moved beyond the largely “administrative and blue-collar” jobs of the past and are now filling a larger percentage of the Army’s leadership cadre.

            When it comes to recruiting new talent, Schneider said that funding and demographic limitations should not be impediments to landing agile, creative, problem-solving, collaborative workers  “We want the very best…our country needs the very best,” Schneider said.

            Joe McDade, assistant deputy chief of staff, G-1, said that while the Army has some “world-class programs” when it comes to training and developing civilian workers, not all the programs reach that standard. McDade said 40 percent of the civilian workforce is managed inconsistently, and 60 percent is not managed at all. “This has got to change,” McDade said, adding that one area that needs improvement is the development of internal candidates so they are promotion-worthy when senior job vacancies occur.

            Mark Lewis, deputy chief of staff for G-3/5/7, noted that the current budget includes $50 million for Army civilian leadership development, and $16 million for training.  “We’re not a cost; we’re an investment,” Lewis said, adding that supervisors should make sure they fill training and development seminars so that the money stays in the budget in future funding cycles.

By Laura Jeffrey
for AUSA

Secretary, chief reaffirm Army Family Covenant

            With Gen. George W. Casey Jr., Army chief of staff, and new Secretary of the Army John McHugh reaffirming the Army Family Covenant, it shows that families are taking a forefront in the readiness picture.

            At an Institute of Land Warfare Contemporary Military Forum  on Oct. 7 at the Association of the United States Army Annual Meeting and Exposition, several family advocates outlined how the covenant has impacted families and what can be expected in the future. 

            With the doubling of investment in Army family programs from $750 million to $1.5 billion, Kathleen Marin, director of installation services for the office of the assistant chief of installation management, highlighted some programs and initiatives that have evolved since the Army Family Covenant was first signed in 2007.  This includes:

            Adding 1,079 readiness support assistant positions

            Increasing the number of military family life consultants from 144 to 212

            Establishing Army survivor outreach services to improve support for survivors of fallen soldiers

            Funding construction of more than 100 child development centers

            Gaining support of 39 Fortune 500 companies who have helped find jobs for more than 41,000 military spouses through the Army Spouse Employment Program

            Developing the Warrior Adventure Quest for soldiers to participate in outdoor adventure activities that help them cope with reset and re-integration

            Getting 25 states – impacting 71 percent of military children – to sign the Interstate Compact on Educational Opportunity for Military Children

            A new program that has already begun with basic training recruits is Comprehensive Soldier Fitness.  Modeled after Army physical training, it is a “psychological” fitness initiative that, through physical challenges, will leave soldiers with mental strength and resilience.

            “It’s not a cure-all but it helps prevent negative outcomes,” said Brig. Gen. Rhonda Cornum, the program’s director.

            It’s slated to start in the active Army in November, and it will be available to family members in January.

            Col. David C. Moran, office of the chief of chaplains, told attendees how a 10-year-old program called Strong Bonds has benefited from funding by being placed under the Army Family Covenant.  Similar to unit stand downs, it’s a retreat-based program where family members get away from work and home to build stronger relationships.

            The number of participants has doubled every year, and in 2010, it’s projected to have 4,000 events totaling more than 365,000 participants.

            Brig. Gen. Richard W. Thomas, office of the surgeon general, said while the Army Family Covenant has impacted health care programs and initiatives, it’s up to leadership and family advocates to keep soldiers and families informed on how to access health services.  Over the past 20 years, the number of Army hospitals has shrunk as the growth of TRICARE networks replace much of what those facilities had provided.

            To get the word out on the Army Family Covenant, the Family, Morale, Welfare and Recreation Command (FMWRC) has instituted an aggressive marketing campaign that “will highlight the strength of the American soldier and his or her family,” according to James Abney, FMWRC.  At the forefront is the Army and Air Force Exchange Service where in-store messaging, food court tray liners and 100 fleet trucks will carry the family covenant message.

            U.S. Army Accessions Command will also get the message out to recruiting stations to ensure potential recruits know the importance of family members in the Army. 

Marshall Award

            The recipient of the Association of the United States Army’s highest award said, “I feel as an advocate for our veterans, soldiers, and their families…  thank you for your service is just not enough anymore.”

            Kenneth Fisher, the chief executive officer of the Fisher House Foundation, said at the George Catlett Marshall Dinner in Washington, “What I have observed in great detail and perhaps can offer some perspective about are the challenges that our returning wounded military personnel and their families face when they come home.   The challenges can be immense. They are sometimes complex and often long-term.  And they are made worse by the current state of our economy.”

            Speaking Oct. 7 at the close of AUSA’s 55th Annual Meeting, he added,  “95 percent of those injured on the battlefield now survive.  Many suffer injuries that would have been fatal in previous conflicts.  As a result, the path to recovery for the service member and his or her family is often long and arduous.”

            Fisher said, “They are so very deserving. They are deeply dedicated to overcoming the challenges they confront.  Helping them isn’t charity but rather this nation’s solemn duty.  It is an investment in healing and recovery that can give these families the opportunity they need to rebuild their lives.   In these very tough situations, they don’t quit on themselves. Neither should we. “

            He called upon the Department of Defense and Veterans Affairs to streamline their bureaucracies to better serve this generation of service members and veterans. He added that philanthropic organizations should examine their procedures to emphasize delivery of services over promotion.

            “Veterans’ organizations must come together and worry less about turf wars and more about advancing the larger agenda. Politicians need to translate their feel-good campaign rhetoric into action.”

            Referring to his service on the Dole-Shalala Commission following reports by the Washington Post and Army Times on outpatient care and disability ratings, Fisher said, “We all accept that neither the government nor the private sector can do it alone.  Now is the time for everyone in the field to embrace the division of labor and responsibility that is necessary and work to coordinate their efforts, all pulling in the same direction.”

             Fisher cited Marshall’s legacy, as in Winston Churchill’s words, “the organizer of victory” and the architect of a plan bearing his name that helped rebuild Europe in the aftermath of World War II.

            “We need a similar can-do attitude now.”

            He added, “It is time to clear the obstacles and broaden the effort.  ‘Thank you for your service’ was only a start for us, and it is no longer enough.”   

Military Family Forum III: Army Families: Forging a Stronger Future

            “How do we get soldiers and families access to the resources they need?”  Lt. Gen. Jack Stultz asked at the start of the third and last military family forum.

            Soldiers and their families can sometimes end up as isolated islands,even in
New York City, if they can’t connect with the programs orservices they need to thrive, Stultz, the chief of the Army Reserve, said.

            He credited his wife, Laura Stultz, whom he called “my hero,” with theidea of a virtual installation to bring resources to soldiers and their families.

            The first virtual installation center, the Army Strong Community Center, created for families that live great distances from military
installations, opened on Sept.12 in Rochester, N.Y.

Army Strong Community Center should really be called the Army Strong Community Connection Center,” Mrs. Stultz said at the Oct. 7 forum that is part of the Association of the United States Army’s Annual Meeting and Exposition.The goal of the centers, which are targeted at all military families, is building connections. There are plans under way to build five more pilot centers and continued service growth.

            Col. Kris Peterson, Army psychiatry consultant on children and
adolescents, illustrated the need to expand services for military
families in his presentation. He outlined the adverse impact that eight
years of war and multiple deployments have had on the mental health of
children from military families and the lack of sufficient mental health
services to help them.

            “Parents are no longer gone for months,” Peterson said, “but years, and we are now seeing increasing levels of anxiety and depression across all age groups.”

            Preschoolers show higher levels of aggression, and teenagers exhibit a lower threshold for emotional outbursts, in addition to increased anxiety and depression. The consequences of these adverse mental health changes are higher rates of failure in school and higher dropout rates.

            In 2003, 800,000 military children were seen by non-military outpatient mental health clinics. Last year, the number of children seen in non-military clinics reached 1.6 million. Peterson said that families
are turning to non-military mental health clinics because the military
mental health clinics are already saturated.

            The Military Child and Adolescent Center of Excellence (253-968-4723 or 253-968-4772) was founded in 2008 to help redress this imbalance by training more mental health providers since multiple deployments are ongoing. Its goal is to reduce stigma and promote health-seeking behaviors. Also, the Army is testing in both
Washington and Hawaii the Families Overcoming Under Stress (FOCUS) counseling program developed by the Navy,

            Tim Red, director of military programming for the National Fatherhood Institute,, described the need for military fathers to stay involved, responsible and committed to their children.

            “Think of a social ill,” Red said, “and it’s likely to be highly
correlated with fathers’ absence. The list includes poverty, school
failure, drugs, crime and suicide.

            Currently, there are 165,000 military fathers deployed, Red said, and they have 333, 000 children. The military needs to create more programs for fathers, Red said, to avert crises at home and prevent distracted fathers from serving military missions.

            “Soldiers respond when they’re told what is important. The more important fatherhood becomes to Army leadership, the more it will be important to soldiers,” he concluded.

            The second half of the last military family program focused on community involvement with the military. In 2007, the Army Community Covenant was launched to help promote military and community interaction. The number of communities that have signed the covenant at present is 250, and 200 more are new enrollees in the works.

            Four organizations described their commitment to the military community:

            The founder of Azalea Charities, Frank E. Lasch, Sr., spoke about the nonprofit’s dedication to wounded soldiers and their families. Azalea,>>, has already donated 28,000 comfort items and over 1 million phone minutes to them.

            “Tell us where the gaps are, and let us have the privilege and honor of filling them,” Lasch said.

            Matthew Wright, director of corporate and foundation relations at Scott and
Wright Memorial Hospital in Texas, said its project is to place mental health counselors in primary care clinics off base. The approach removes stigma, increases access and provides immediate assistance. The counseling is free and unlimited. The initial goal was to provide 900 counseling sessions in 24 months, but the project supplied 4,675 sessions in a little over 18 months, and is currently seeking more funding.

            Susan Agustin, who founded Operation Give a Hug and now works in partnership with the Army,, said that that the nonprofit has given away 150,000 dolls to date. The dolls have a plastic slot on their heads where the photo of the face of the deployed parent can be inserted and also have a hang tag that lists resources and contact info for military families.

            Daniel Nichols, executive director of the Military to Medicine Institute that is part of the INOVA Health System, >>, outlined the effort INOVA Health System,, is making to hire military talent. He said that the organization hired 20 military spouses last week and provides no-cost training for military family members who want to enter the healthcare field.

            Brig. Gen. Reuben  Jones, adjutant general, wrapped up the last forum by inviting all audience members to
follow him on Twitter at>> or
>> and to use the following Web sites for more information:


He also thanked
Sylvia Kidd, director of AUSA family programs, for
organizing the three forums, and she requested that all audience members complete the AUSA Family Member Survey, >>,
that will help AUSA understand what hardships family members undergo during a deployment and the availability of TRICARE.

To see presentations from Military Family Forum III, click here.

By Susan M. Sipprelle
for AUSA