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FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — After 14 years, the Association of the United States Army's winter symposium is bidding farewell to sunny southern Florida.
Retired Gen. Gordon Sullivan, AUSA president, confirmed the decision following the symposium's annual golf tournament. But he is not surrendering the winter symposium. Sullivan said a new location is being considered, though no decision has been made.
Huge budget cuts led the Army in January to announce significant cuts to attendance at or hosting of conferences. But the Army on Tuesday offered the symposium its support.
"While the Army is currently facing fiscal uncertainty, it must continue to develop the force of the future," the service said on its "Stand-To!" web page. "The AUSA Winter Symposium provides a platform to discuss the future of the Army with key Army, Department of Defense, foreign military and industry stakeholders. It is an opportunity for senior leaders to address how the Army will balance near- and long-term readiness. Professional forums will enable direct dialogue between military leaders and symposium attendees and reinforce Army priorities and key messages."
And there is little reduction in the general officers attending AUSA's winter symposium. This year's scheduled attendees include:
• One assistant secretary (same as last year).
• Two generals (three attended in 2012).
• Seven lieutenant generals (five attended in 2012).
• Six major generals (five attended in 2012).
• One brigadier general (two one-stars and one promotable colonel attended in 2012).
Still, there is the glaring absence of uniformed soldiers. Talk among industry leaders is that the AUSA officials will solve the problem by moving the symposium closer to an Army facility next year. Fort Riley, Kansas, which is a short drive from Topeka, came up in more than one discussion. Fort Riley is home to the First Infantry Division.
The Maneuver Center of Excellence, based in Fort Benning, Ga., takes a similar approach with its annual Maneuver Conference. This allows thousands of soldiers to attend and opens opportunities for live-fire demonstrations.
While uniformed soldiers are a rarity at this year's winter symposium, they aren't the only ones missing. Instead of spending the money to showcase the latest and greatest technologies, the fiscal uncertainty that looms over the Pentagon led many in the defense industry to sit this one out. Ninety-six vendors had reserved a little more than half the symposium space, while 170 10x10 booths remain empty.
The low attendance was evident at the annual golf tournament. More than 400 golfers turned out last year. Fewer than 200 were on hand this year. Still, retired Col. Russell Davis and his team soldiered on. The tournament has raised more than $1 million for soldiers and their families through over a little more than a decade. In this final round, the crew brought in soldiers from U.S. Central Command and a number of wounded warriors. Dozens of golfers gave their tournament and raffle prizes to the soldiers in thanks.
"It benefits some great soldiers and I'm honored to have been a part of it," Russell said.
The symposium will run from Feb. 20-22. The theme is "America's NEXT First Battle: Manning, Training, Equipping."
Gen. Robert Cone, commanding general of Training and Doctrine Command, will kick things off Wednesday morning with his presentation "The Transition to an Army of Preparation." He will be followed by Lt. Gen. Keith C. Walker, deputy commanding general of Futures, who will speak on "The Nation's Strategic Hedge." A star-studded panel on strategic land power will wrap up the first morning.
AUSA also will focus on the industrial base and Materiel Command in the symposium's first day.
Heidi Shyu, assistant secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics & Technology will chair the "Better Buying Power and Affordability" panel. She will be the senior civilian at the symposium, as she was last year.
Gen. Dennis Via will kick off the second day with an Army Materiel Command overview. His presentation is likely to be packed as the Army is forced to cancel third and fourth quarter depot maintenance. That means six divisions won't be getting the gear they need this year.
Panels will later address ways to optimize industrial base partnering and the global supply chain. Troops in Korea and Afghanistan need not worry about the latter, as they will have everything they need. But the same can't be said for others.
The Army's transition to sustainment will be a primary focus on the third and final day.
They will be on hand to keep share their knowledge and keep a good relationship with industry. Indeed, the symposium will have some forward-looking topics such as fuel-flexible fuel cell power generation, software to aid the dismounted soldier, technology implications of GPS-denied operations, ways to optimize the Army's Science and Technology investment and the future of the Network Integration Evaluation.