Odierno: ‘There’s Angst in the Army’ (Updated)
It’s enough uncertainty to make people quite anxious, acknowledged Gen. Raymond Odierno, the Army’s chief of staff.
“We have this large organization that has to go through some significant change,” Odierno said Nov. 1 at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, in Washington, D.C.
Odierno, a former top commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, has been spending considerable time of late pondering the future, and more importantly, how to communicate a “vision of change” to a constituency of 1.1 million soldiers, 700,000 civilians and nearly a million family members. “That's a lot of people to reach out to,” he said. “How we communicate the change is critical.”
Odierno said he worries about Army leaders’ ability to articulate “where we want to go,” he said. “There's angst in the Army” because of the coming downsizing and the foggy outlook about the Army’s mission post-Afghanistan.
His plan sounds simple: Ensure the Army is ready to fight anytime, and anywhere, from low-intensity to large-scale conflicts. But Odierno recognizes that this will be a difficult transition for an Army that has spent more than a decade focused entirely on counterinsurgency warfare for Iraq and Afghanistan deployments. The goal is to dial back that training and being to rebuild a force with a “baseline of combined arms readiness,” Odierno said. “We need a building block capability to respond to a broad range of missions.”
Another goal is to educate soldiers on region-specific culture and language, so they are better prepared for conflict in any part of the world. Army leaders concede that the forces that went into Iraq and Afghanistan suffered from a complete lack of knowledge of the local government, culture and language. “We can't let that happen again,” said Odierno. “We have to be better.”
The Army’s plan, meanwhile, is made all the more complicated by the unpredictability of where the force might be asked to go months or years from now.
“There is incredible uncertainty as we look to the future,” said Odierno. During his weekly intelligence briefings on global hot spots, he is struck by the vagueness of what might constitute a threat to national security. “The potential areas of instability cover the entire map of the world,” he said.
The Army’s ambition to be a jack-of-all-trades will require it to expand its skills. The intent is to have “regionally aligned forces,” said Odierno. Instead of training for rotational deployments in Afghanistan, brigades will immerse themselves in the culture of a particular region of the world, and that unit would then be available to participate in multinational exercises or “security cooperation” programs with nations in that area.
“We’ll make forces available to combatant commanders, from platoon to brigades, or combat support,” said Odierno. A brigade based at Fort Polk, La., which is now dedicated exclusively to prepare teams to train Afghan security forces, will be assigned to “look worldwide at how we build partners’ capacity,” he said.
The Army’s 1st Corps based at Fort Lewis, Wash., will be “aligned” with U.S. Pacific Command. The 2nd Brigade of the 1st Infantry Division, based at Fort Riley, Kansas, will support U.S. Africa Command.
These regional alignments, he said, are “key to our future. … We have to reinvigorate Army relationships in the Pacific. … We have to do multilateral events to build confidence.”
For this game plan to be successful, Odierno said, the Army will need to ensure that the most competent war veterans stay in the service.Senior officers worry that young commanders who have become accustomed to relative freedom from higher command during combat tours will be unhappy and unmotivated in the institutional Army.
Correction: An earlier version of this post incorrectly stated the name of the Army brigade that will be aligned with AFRICOM.
Photo Credit: Defense Department