Minimizing Risk Is Army’s 2015 Goal: Can-Do Culture Worries About What Might No Longer Be Possible

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The U.S. Army has long been known for its so-called can-do spirit, but optimism about the ability to succeed in any mission is waning. Senior Army leaders are warning the size of force and tight budgets are creating an unthinkable possibility of sending soldiers into battle who are not fully prepared.

“Military risk is accumulating exponentially,” Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond T. Odierno said in October during AUSA’s Annual Meeting and Exposition in Washington, D.C. In 2012, Army leaders took a look at the world situation and decided the active duty force could drop to 490,000 people. Two years later, Army officials declared it could go even lower, to 450,000, as a way of coping with the deeper cuts resulting from sequestration.

“The problem is that since we made those statements, the world is changing in front of us,” Odierno said. “The world has increased in instability so much I’m concerned if even 490,000 is enough.”

Army Secretary John M. McHugh, speaking at the same meeting, said the Army has been cutting soldiers “about as fast as we can.” He cautioned that deeper spending cuts would likely fall in readiness-related programs, such as training and maintenance. For 2015, McHugh said he thinks the Army has enough funds to balance its programs. For 2016 and beyond, he isn’t sure.

The threat of sequestration, which is on the table again in 2016, is another reason for concern, McHugh said. “Sequestration would require the Army to slash our end strength far below the 450,000 currently reflected in our fiscal year ’15 budget. At that lower level, we would limit America’s strategic options and pose unacceptable risk as even executing one prolonged, multi-phased major contingency operation would be in question.”

The problem is pretty easy to understand, McHugh said. “As we see our budget shrink, we are fiscally and physically unable to be in more and more places, which increase the response time.”


Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond T. Odierno is concerned that an Army end strength of 490,000 may not be sufficient. (Credit: AUSA)


Secretary of the Army John M. McHugh characterized the Army as ‘indispensable’ in a world of increasing strategic risk and instability. (Credit: AUSA)

The Army’s can-do attitude may be hurting rather than helping, he said, suggesting it could be hard to get Congress to take seriously the threat of sequestration. “The great irony is we may be the victims of our own success,” he said. “As our soldiers, officers and civilians have bent over backwards and squeezed everything they can to absorb the cuts we’ve had to make over the past several years, perhaps we’ve often made the very difficult look a bit easy. To some, it might seem as if we were able to accomplish these cuts so readily, then there must be room for more.”

Explaining what the Army could face is hard, McHugh said. “When you try to articulate things like risk and readiness, the things our soldiers grapple with each and every day, it is often not as clear to those outside the military certainly as I would like it to be.”

The way ahead isn’t easy, McHugh said. “Having to generate sustained landpower in new ways, amid declining budgets with fewer experienced soldiers, is difficult, to say the least, but these are simple—simple if tremendously unpleasant—facts to which our Army is adapting to at every echelon.”

“The Army must change is a strategic and fiscal reality,” McHugh said. “We will get smaller; and, as a result, thousands of brave men and women will hang up their uniforms. Some will leave willingly; other fine soldiers who have served honorably are being asked to depart. That’s a tough reality for all of us.”

Gen. Vincent K. Brooks, commanding general of U.S. Army Pacific, said budget uncertainty is causing “angst in the ranks.” “We are not sure, our soldiers are not sure, what is going to be there for them,” Brooks said.


Gen. Vincent K. Brooks, commanding general, U.S. Army Pacific (Credit: AUSA)

A new Army Operating Concept, unveiled at AUSA’s meeting, is designed to help move the force in the right direction. “The Army has to be constantly learning, adapting and innovating,” said Gen. David G. Perkins, commanding general of U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command. “The Army as an institution has to have a way to learn and innovate, and so we are building that capability.” The aim, he said, is to get away from reacting “in fits and starts” to changes in funding in contingency budgets or overall funding, and to instead look at the overall national security needs.

Called Win in a Complex World, the new operating concept replaced the 2010 version that looked at the years 2016 to 2028. The new version looks at 2020 to 2040, stressing the need for the Army to focus on tactical, operational and strategic elements of war. The unknown plays a big part in the new document. Says the preface, written by Perkins, “The environment the Army will operate in is unknown. The enemy is unknown, the location is unknown, and the coalitions involved are unknown.”

The key, Perkins said, is the Army can, with innovation and leadership, adapt faster than the adversaries and enemies.

“We have to start somewhere,” Odierno said. “We know there will continue to be budget pressure on us.”

Here are some other themes from the annual meeting:

‘Think Multicomponent’

Everybody—active, Guard, Army Reserve and civilian—will be playing a part in keeping the Army ready for global operations in 2015. While an undercurrent of tension between the components has increased because of budgetary pressures and force realignments, Army leaders are resolved to get everyone working together.

“We cannot execute sustained operations unless we integrate the Guard and Reserve,” said Gen. Mark A. Milley, commanding general of U.S. Army Forces Command. “Our Number 1 task is readiness,” Milley said, “because we have no earthly idea what will happen in a month or two from now.”

Some tangible steps are underway. Milley has a goal of having Guard and Reserve units make up 50 percent of rotations to the Fort Irwin, Calif., National Training Center. “What we don’t want to do is go back to 10 percent Guard and Reserve, 90 percent active,” he said. “My guidance to all FORSCOM commanders, regardless of components, is to think multicomponent, Total Army, in everything we do.”


Gen. Mark A. Milley leads U.S. Army Forces Command. (Credit: AUSA)

Army officials haven’t forgotten the importance of civilians. Under Secretary of the Army Brad R. Carson said civilians are “indispensable” to the Army’s success and pledged more support. “I need your help, your ideas, your passion and your commitment,” Carson said as he addressed the civilian workforce, promising improvements in mentorship programs and in training and development courses.

Lt. Gen. Jeffrey W. Talley, Chief of Army Reserve, unveiled Rally Point 32.1, the newest version of a strategic document to set a path for the Reserve. He calls it a response to a complex security environment and uncertain fiscal outlook. “The Army Reserve represents most of the Army’s medical, logistical, transportation, full-spectrum engineering, civil affairs, legal, and chemical capabilities,” Talley says in the document, calling for Reserve soldiers to “stay sharp” in their fields through employment in the private sector and through career development.


Lt. Gen. Jeffrey W. Talley, commanding general, U.S. Army Reserve Command (Credit: AUSA)

Pacific, European Deployments Planned

The Army is looking to the Pacific and to Europe to maintain old alliances and build new ones. It will do that largely through deployments.

“We have to have more faces, in more places, without more bases,” Brooks said. “This is the opportunity and the challenge for us.”

In the Pacific, the Army intends to continue two- to three-month deployments under a program called Pacific Pathways, Brooks said. The deployments are “part of our engagement structure and strategy,” he said, and support the administration’s pivot from the Middle East to the Asia-Pacific. The exercises also are economical, proving less expensive than permanent basing. They began this past fall in Indonesia, Japan and Malaysia. Three more Pacific Pathways deployments are planned for 2015, Brooks said.

As the Army draws down, such exercises are more important than ever, Brooks said. It will take great cultural and generational shifts, however, to fill the “void of trust” some countries hold against the U.S., he said.

Similar deployments are underway in Europe, with soldiers taking part in exercises in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland. Designed to be part of training with NATO allies, the European deployments have taken on new meaning with unrest in Ukraine. With fewer than 32,000 soldiers now permanently based in Europe—down from a peak of more than 300,000 during the Cold War—rotational units taking part in multinational exercises is a way of maintaining trust and experience, Army officials said.

Gray Matters

On two fronts, the Army is worried about soldiers’ brains. One effort focuses on developing critical thinking. The other involves what the Army surgeon general refers to as having a “healthy brain.”

Critical thinking is a key element of Win in a Complex World, the newest Army Operating Concept. Released this past October as a guide to shaping the Army for the period of 2020 to 2040, the push is to make smart thinkers.

“We are actually changing aspects of basic training so they have to start applying critical thinking skills between the bus and the drill sergeant,” said Perkins, commanding general of U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command, during the annual meeting. “You have got to figure out how you empower subordinates.”

The idea isn’t to create an Army full of doubters and soldiers reluctant to follow but to encourage critical thinking so that people who find themselves in new situations can adapt. “Because we know the world is unknown and constantly changing, you cannot possibly control compliance with everything,” Perkins said.

“We must not be consumed with focusing solely on avoiding risk, but build leaders and institutions that recognize and leverage opportunities,” Perkins writes in the preface to the document, also known as TRADOC Pamphlet 525-3-1. “Leaders at all levels must encourage prudent risk taking and not allow bureaucratic processes to stifle them.”


Gen. David G. Perkins commands U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command. (Credit: AUSA)

Also with brains on the brain at the annual meeting was Army Surgeon General Lt. Gen. Patricia D. Horoho, who emphasized that having a healthy brain is part of being a top-performing soldier. “It is unknown how powerful our Army can be if we start off with a healthy brain,” she said during a discussion on what the Army refers to as the “human domain.”

Army research is looking at ways to combat fatigue, stress and working in extreme conditions, Horoho said. Nutrition is a factor, but so is the lack of sleep and being overweight. “We have to enable the soldier to be agile and flexible in split-second decisionmaking.”

Army culture leads many soldiers to believe they can operate without sleep, but studies have found less than six hours’ sleep for six days in a row leads to a cognitive impairment of 20 percent, Horoho said. That is about the same as a blood alcohol content of 0.08 percent.

“We would never allow a soldier in formation with a 0.08 blood alcohol level,” she said.


Lt. Gen. Patricia D. Horoho is the Surgeon General of the Army. (Credit: U.S. Army/Tho Le)

Full Speed Ahead for Cyber

Army officials expect it will take two years to complete the Cyber Branch, a cadre of skilled soldiers who will work on cyber protection, combat support and combat mission teams in addition to other duties. The branch is expected to have about 6,000 soldiers.

Lt. Gen. Edward C. Cardon, commanding general of U.S. Army Cyber Command, said 2014 was a year of a lot of progress, but there is a lot left to do. “We are about a little less than halfway built,” he said, describing progress in building cyber capabilities at the corps level and below.

The headquarters for the new branch, the first formed since the 1987 creation of U.S. Special Operations Command, will be built at Fort Gordon, Ga. Construction won’t be finished until 2018 at the soonest, but the mission won’t wait.

One way of filling the branch has been in-service recruiting, Cardon said, but the Army will have to go outside to fill all of the billets. Because training is expected to take 18 months, the Army has been getting advice from private-sector technology companies on how to identify people with innate computer skills in addition to recruiting those with information technology-related education.

Cyber threats already exist, Cardon said, noting the number and sophistication of threats are growing. Building a better Army network requires better understanding of the threats and vulnerabilities, he said. “If you want to build the strongest network, you better understand how it’s being attacked.”

While cyber attacks are a clear concern, Cardon said the expansion of Army networking has been a significant benefit. Company commanders have at their fingertips resources that were only available at the division level a decade ago, he said.


Lt. Gen. Edward C. Cardon leads U.S. Army Cyber Command. (Credit: AUSA)

Border Security a Joint Effort

Military and law enforcement officials convened at the annual meeting to discuss the roles of the U.S. military in border security.

Brig. Gen. Jon S. Lehr, commander, Joint Task Force North, U.S. Northern Command, staved off misconceptions about DoD’s actual role by saying they don’t perform law enforcement operations but provide support to those who do. They are asked to do what they do; they don’t come up with their operations.

The “last line of defense” must be provided by the U.S., said Brig. Gen. Andrew E. Salas, adjutant general of the New Mexico National Guard, since the Mexican military’s capacity is limited. The National Guard plays a considerable part in this, providing support to law enforcement such as air support, land forces, transportation and ground surveillance.

Sounding a warning for the future, Professor Bert B. Tussing, director of the Homeland Defense and Security Issues Group at the U.S. Army War College’s Center for Strategic Leadership and Development, said in terms of gangs and organized crime, “We may be faced with a more kinetic threat to … the safety of our people.”

The potential nexus of the criminal element with transnational terrorism is of increasing concern, Tussing said. Border defense is something the U.S. will have to handle in the air, on the sea and on the ground. “That … is something that we have not come to grips with yet.”

Digital Intuition

Leaders from West Point, U.S. Army Combined Arms Support Command, Rowan Technology Solutions and the Army Logistics University came together at AUSA’s annual meeting to discuss learning in the digital age.

“The young people coming to us, the young cadets, young men and women who come to the academy, they’re used to a digital environment,” said Brig. Gen. Timothy E. Trainor, dean of the academic board at West Point. “Information is at their fingertips, has been at their fingertips since they were born and all through high school, so they are very comfortable in going in digital means and seeking [information].”

Since the use of iPads, digital instruction and e-books is expanding on post, Trainor discussed adapting to digital learning at West Point with two major goals in mind: equipping cadets with the knowledge so they graduate with a comfortable sense of technology, and maintaining a digital library that cadets can continue to rely on as commissioned officers.

The academy began transitioning into the digital arena by installing wireless connectivity throughout the post, investing in software, updating textbook material and creating interactive learning material.

“As part of our plan in doing all of this, we had to build in, right from the start, what I’ll call long-term sustainability plan,” he said, “how will we regularly update this textbook with new material, new graphics, and we built that into the plan. And I really think this whole initiative has helped us leap ahead, so to speak, in terms of our pedagogical methods and how we teach in the classroom and outside the classroom.”

The move to digital allows cadets to have access to a wider range of learning tools, such as digital notes, instructional videos on otherwise dense subjects and interactive maps, providing a “truly interdisciplinary” learning environment, Trainor said.

William Moore, deputy to the commanding general at Combined Arms Support Command, emphasized the usefulness of taking from the experiences of others to build on knowledge, digitizing their experiences and compiling them into “an iBook type approach.”

“We can put that there in our knowledge what works so we can share, we can archive it, we can search it later if someone gets into a similar experience. We can really build that knowledge,” he said.

“They capture their experiences and then we take those and translate those into e-chapters in the e-book format,” John E. Hall, president of the Army Logistics University, said of a writing requirement for captains in the university’s Army logistics career course. “The purpose there is to help capture the history of the U.S. Army as it occurs, help tell the story of the U.S. Army.”

Indispensable Civilians

The Army is going nowhere without its 225,000-civilian workforce, Under Secretary of the Army Carson said at the Army Civilian Luncheon during the annual meeting. Civilian workers, he said, “are indispensable to our success.”

“The skills of the Army civilians are as much needed as those of our formidable military force. This is not easy work, and it is not work that is going away,” said Carson, the Army’s chief management officer.

“The civilian workforce has a long and rich tradition of service, intertwined with the Army at its core,” he said. These men and women, past and present, “embody professionalism and perseverance.”

For example, more than 1,000 civilian workers deployed to Afghanistan. They “often face the same dangers as our soldiers,” the Under Secretary said.

Improvements are needed in the support system for Army civilians, he said, pointing out that “mentorship is not routine” and there isn’t enough leader training and development. Another issue is the lack of a “pervasive enterprise-wide civilian retention plan, or comprehensive talent management program,” he said.

Carson still sees progress. “Since 2012, we have more than tripled the number of training and development programs for Army civilians,” and the Army is acting to continue this growth despite the “sinister effects of sequestration.”

There is nothing new about the Army depending on civilian workers, Carson said, recalling the role of John C. Garand, an engineer and designer at the Springfield Armory in Massachusetts who designed the M1 Garand semi-automatic infantry rifle. “Like all of our Army civilians, Garand knew that he was a crucial piece of what the Army does,” he said. “When John Garand was brought in, the world was a very different place,” but Garand has one thing in common with today’s Army civilians: “the desire to make a difference, to be part of a larger cause.”


Under Secretary of the Army Brad R. Carson (Credit: U.S. Army/Staff Sgt. Bernardo Fuller)

Keep Eye on CBRN Threats

“Today’s military must plan and train for missions that are not necessarily lesser included functions of warfighting but are every bit as important,” retired Navy Rear Adm. Donald P. Loren said at AUSA’s annual meeting.

Those “lesser included functions of warfighting” referred to chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) threats as well as weapons of mass destruction. “The threat of global nuclear war has become remote, but the risk of nuclear attack has increased,” Loren said, quoting the 2010 Nuclear Posture Review.

“I can’t leave AUSA without talking about winning in a complex world,” said Maj. Gen. Leslie C. Smith, commanding general of the U.S. Army Maneuver Support Center of Excellence.

“We have to work collaboratively to develop solutions,” Smith said. “We all know it takes everybody to make this thing happen.” He provided examples of how his team is developing those solutions, citing the development of doctrine, equipment, urban search and rescue, laboratories, and robotics. He also acknowledged the importance of making sure task forces remain accredited while keeping training cost-effective.

“The nation and the American people need the CBRN response enterprise now more than ever,” said Robert G. Salesses, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Homeland Defense Integration and Defense Support of Civil Authorities.

He also acknowledged that it takes a lot to keep that system running, underscoring the importance of the military and government working together.

Domestic missions provide a unique opportunity for the Army, Salesses said. Soldiers are given the chance to work within their communities, increasing their professional skill sets. “It’s a tremendous opportunity working here domestically, and that, in my view, contributes to overall readiness in the military force,” he said.

Protecting the Homeland

Supporting civil authorities when disaster strikes in the continental U.S. was a priority expressed by Army and civilian leaders at AUSA’s annual meeting.

AUSA’s Institute of Land Warfare and the Department of Homeland Security hosted a breakout panel, “Defense Support to Civil Authorities: Responding to America’s Worst Day,” in which leaders talked about how to respond to domestic crises. They used a series of earthquakes in 1811–12 along the Mississippi River as historical examples of what needs to be done to get it right if it happens today.

Jeh C. Johnson, secretary of Homeland Security, stressed the importance of discussing “the ways in which, in my judgment, the U.S. Army and the Department of Homeland Security have intersecting missions and … in the years forward, our missions need to align.”


Jeh C. Johnson is secretary of the Department of Homeland Security. (Credit: AUSA)

The panel was made up of a mix of top military and civilian personnel, which lead speaker Lt. Gen. Perry L. Wiggins, commanding general of U.S. Army North/Fifth Army, said “represent[ed] the whole-of-government approach and national response framework.”

Participants included Robert J. Fenton, the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s assistant administrator for response, and Arlington (Va.) County Fire Department Chief James Schwartz, who spoke about the interaction between local and federal first responders at the Pentagon on 9/11.

Gen. Charles H. Jacoby Jr., commander of U.S. Northern Command, participated on the panel via Skype. He said he was pleased that homeland security was being discussed at the meeting.

“This just makes sense. We can be bureaucratic rivals and be late to need for our citizens, or we can work together and we can be on time, on target and effective at meeting the needs of our citizens in the homeland at times of their greatest need. … We choose the latter.”