Christine Wormuth, the experienced national security expert chosen to lead the land power transformation and make history as the first woman to serve as secretary of the Army, is not underestimating the challenge.
Married to a retired Navy officer, and with a grandfather, father-in-law, sister and son-in-law who served or are still serving in the military, and with her own 25-year career as a civilian in and around DoD, the 52-year-old native of La Jolla, California, told Congress she is humbled and proud to be chosen for the job.
“We have a window to make needed changes to ensure that the Army continues to be the best fighting force in the world,” she said at her May 13 confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee. “That window will not be open indefinitely.”
Wormuth, who was appointed as the 25th Army secretary on May 28, is on board with modernizing the Army “to enable it to stay ahead of challenges posed by the realities of high-intensity, technologically advanced warfighting,” and recognizes this has to happen while maintaining a high level of readiness. How that’s all going to happen isn’t clear, as she acknowledges money for defense isn’t going to be free-flowing in the short term.
“I will be the strongest possible advocate for the Army inside the Pentagon and out,” she pledged. “I will seek to lead as a hands-on secretary that works closely with the Army’s uniformed leadership at all levels, empowers our staff, models ethical and transparent leadership, and who demonstrates everyday care for the entire Army team.”
In her many years serving in the Pentagon, she never worked within the Army, but in written answers to questions asked by the Senate committee, Wormuth said she brings “an insider’s knowledge of the Pentagon’s complex bureaucracy and an outsider’s desire to challenge service orthodoxies.” She’s willing to make changes if that’s what is needed to prepare for great-power competition, she said.
She also described herself as “very familiar with how the Army plans, programs, and budgets, as well as the importance of developing a strong program and being able to successfully defend it to the Secretary of Defense and Congress,” a skill that could be important in times of scarce funding.
She shares the same overarching vision as uniformed Army leaders about what the service needs. “As the world becomes more technologically connected, it will be imperative for the Army to outpace peer-competitors and ensure it is able to operate and compete against adversaries with advanced technological capabilities,” she wrote.
Some funding for Army transformation has been the result of a somewhat ruthless process of sacrificing existing programs to pay for new capabilities. This has won both praise and criticism from Congress, depending on views about what is cut and what gains new funding. Wormuth sees value in what the Army has been calling “Night Court” but also wants to take a closer look. “The Army has been successful balancing and optimizing appropriated funds against its priorities through three years of deliberate internal realignment of funds,” she wrote, promising to “assess carefully how the Army can continue to succeed in balancing these priorities in the future.”
It has become fashionable in some circles to question the Army’s role in future combat operations against major powers such as Russia and China, but Wormuth disagrees. “The Army must maintain the ability to credibly deter major-power competitors, People’s Republic of China and Russia, and defeat them decisively in conflict, if necessary,” she wrote. “The Army’s ability to conduct large-scale ground combat operations assures our allies and partners and provides Joint Force Commanders and national policymakers credible deterrence options in a crisis,” she said.
There is more to her thoughts. “Maintaining the Army’s overmatch against major power competitors requires calibrated force posture and aggressive multi-domain modernization,” she wrote. “This means putting the right capabilities in the right place to deter, with the power projection platforms necessary to quickly deploy, fight, and win.”
This means the Army has value in a fight and a role in deterrence. A strong Army means “our adversaries think twice before they choose to coerce U.S. allies and partners with military force.”
Wormuth is on board with improving housing, health care, spouse employment and child care, all part of the Army’s People First initiative. She promised to “focus not only on ensuring our Army can compete, deter and win in future conflicts, but also on taking care of people so that the Army can recruit, retain and nurture the nation’s best talent to fulfill its critical responsibilities as part of the Joint Force.”
There are many pieces to taking care of soldiers, civilians, families and veterans, she acknowledged. “It means recognizing that our soldiers and civilians should have the best quality of life possible, and requires prioritizing improvements in our housing and barracks, healthcare, childcare, spouse employment and permanent change of station moves,” she wrote.
Wormuth also sees value in programs that bring more predictability to the lives of soldiers and their families, reducing stress and providing a better lifestyle. She supports a two-decade effort by the Army to try to balance mission requirements with deployments. “Leaders at all levels should, in my view, work to balance mission requirements with the needs of individual soldiers and their families,” she wrote.
Improving racial diversity and reducing racial tensions are also among her priorities. She acknowledged that 60% of general officers come from the infantry, armor, aviation, engineer and Special Forces branches, which she described as having “the lowest racial, ethnic and gender diversity” of the branches. The Army has initiatives to increase diversity in those branches, she wrote, pledging to “work to ensure the combat arms branches reflect the Army population.”
Military efforts to increase diversity are sometimes linked to discussions about extremists in the ranks. Treading carefully because the Army has had difficulty defining extremism or measuring its presence in the force, Wormuth wrote there is no place in the Army for those who advocate intolerance, engage in discrimination, support terrorists, use violence to achieve discriminatory goals or encourage subversion, as defined in Army regulations. “I believe the vast majority of Army soldiers serve with honor,” she wrote. “I am committed to making eradication of extremist activity amongst the ranks a priority.”
During the confirmation hearing, she said the number of soldiers holding extremist views “is likely small,” but any extremism “undermines unit cohesion and can have a disproportionately negative affect.” The Army might battle this problem with some education, she said, explaining “the use of information and disinformation in social media and things like that to try to help our soldiers become more savvy customers in terms of being able to identify when perhaps they are being targeted with disinformation.”
“I think the vast majority of soldiers are tolerant and inclusive in terms of working with their peers,” she said. “I don’t think that this is a case of where there are large numbers of extremists.”
However, she believes there are institutional barriers to promotion that limit opportunities, and “there are some pockets in some cases of racist behavior.”