First Army commander Lt Gen. Mick Bednarek said the Army should work to maintain the readiness fostered by Reserve and National Guard troops during the last decade. (Master Sgt. Danette Rodesky-Flores / Army)
The Army must find ways to best preserve the hard-fought readiness gained by the National Guard and Army Reserve after more than a decade of war, the outgoing commander of First Army said.
“We’re never satisfied with our readiness, and we must also never be satisfied with the status quo,” said Lt. Gen. Mick Bednarek, who relinquished command March 14 to take a new assignment as chief of the Office of Security Cooperation-Iraq. “You’ve always got to look at and think about what’s next. It’s from A to Z, from cradle to grave, to ensure those who deploy ... get what they need.”
First Army is responsible for advising, assisting and training reserve-component units before they deploy. Its mission includes conducting mobilization, training, readiness validation and deployment for departing units. It also is responsible for demobilizing returning Guard and Reserve units.
“What drives all of us every day at First Army is mobilizing our nation’s reserve-component forces heading to the fight,” he said. “It’s been an incredibly rewarding and great mission for us in First Army … to ensure that everybody heading to the war fight is trained and ready.”
One of the issues Bednarek stressed as commanding general was the demobilization process.
“The demobilization process has to be exactly right,” he said, adding that the Army has put a lot of energy and effort into improving behavioral health care and ensuring soldiers and families are ready for the post-deployment reintegration.
Bednarek took command of First Army in April 2011.
During his tenure, First Army worked “really hard” to improve its relationships with its partners, including the adjutants general in all 54 states and territories, the other services and the commanders on the battlefield, Bednarek said.
“Afghanistan, Kosovo, the Horn of Africa and Djibouti, the Sinai, Guantanamo Bay. Pick a place, and we’ve got to ensure those gaining war-fighter commanders have what they need to accomplish their missions,” he said.
Working within the budget
Looking ahead, Bednarek said readiness will be a priority for the Army as it wrestles with shrinking budgets and a smaller force.
“How do we best preserve the readiness of our Army in an era of significantly dwindling resources?” he said. “You’re not going to do more with less, but you’ll do less with less. How do you prioritize what you do?”
Army leaders have warned that sequestration, which kicked in March 1, would result in shortfalls that are “devastating to training and readiness.”
According to an Army document obtained before March 1, the Army will be able to maintain fully trained units for only Operation Enduring Freedom, rotations to South Korea and the global response force brigade combat team.
The Army also will cut four of six brigade- and battalion-level collective combat training events at the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, Calif., and the Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Polk, La., for nondeploying units, according to the budget document.
With those pending cuts as a backdrop, Bednarek said there have been discussions about First Army taking on a larger role, regardless of active or reserve component, in collective training.
The command also is looking for ways to continue training Guard brigade combat teams, which will see reduced training opportunities at NTC and JRTC, he said.
“How can we assist them either at home station or some other venue to sustain some modicum of readiness, albeit at a lower collective level?” he said.
As the war in Afghanistan comes to a close, the mobilization load will decrease, Bednarek said.
“Our reserve-component teammates will not routinely come to our mobilization training centers,” he said. “We’re going to go to their locations and train them there.”
That includes preparing Guard and Reserve units for regional alignment, Bednarek said. The Army is aligning its force with the geographic combatant commands around the world, and the Guard and Reserve will be key partners in that effort, officials have said.