The new combat uniform, a pilot program allowing women to attend Ranger School, potential changes to the physical fitness test and future promotion opportunities were just a few of the topics discussed by Army senior leaders during a wide-ranging virtual town hall meeting Tuesday.
During the hour-long session, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno and Sergeant Major of the Army Raymond Chandler fielded questions from soldiers in Korea, Italy and across the United States. The meeting was streamed online via YouTube.
Here are some highlights.
• Changes to the Army Combat Uniform
The Army's new camouflage pattern is set to become available this summer.
The uniform is part of the Army's system to protect soldiers, Odierno said.
"We've got to have the best system possible to make sure our soldiers are protected as they deploy around the world," he said. "The ACU doesn't do very well in camouflaging us and protecting us in multiple environments, and the MultiCam that we use in Afghanistan does a much better job. For me, it's about protecting our soldiers."
Once the uniforms become available, the ACU with the new camouflage pattern will be issued to deploying soldiers, he said.
Soldiers at home station will rely on the clothing bag allowance to buy their new uniforms, Chandler said.
"I'm very excited about the replacement for the ACU," Chandler said. "It's a much better uniform, it provides much better protection for you. We put a lot of thought into the design. I think you'll find it's a much better quality uniform than what you have today."
• Possible changes to the physical fitness test
The Army has been looking at changing the decades-old physical fitness test – a two-mile run, sit-ups and push-ups – for years.
A new fitness test that was brought to Odierno when he first became chief of staff three years ago was inadequate, he said.
"I sent them back to the drawing board," he said. "We've looked at the qualifications of every [military occupational specialty], and we're now starting to establish what we want to measure in a PT test."
Odierno said he expects Training and Doctrine Command, which is leading this effort, will bring him recommendations "in the next several months."
He said he expects a general PT test will remain in place while the Army also implements a "functional test by MOS that really focuses on what strengths you need to be in a certain MOS."
"But I'm waiting for a recommendation to come forward based on the two years of testing that we've done," Odierno said.
• Allowing women to attend Ranger School
As part of a wider look at whether and how to open combat arms jobs to women, the Army has been calling for female soldiers to volunteer to attend Ranger School.
"We're running a pilot over the next few months to do an assessment of how well women do in Ranger School," Odierno said.
There is no set way to measure whether the pilot is successful, he said.
"We're just going to let the statistics speak for themselves as we go through this," he said. "The main thing I'm focused on is the standards remain the same. In order to earn that tab, you have to do all the things necessary to earn that tab. We want to try a pilot to let women have the opportunity to do that."
The Army has not defined what a successful pilot should look like, Odierno said.
"We don't know if it's five people graduate, or 100 people graduate, or no one graduates," he said. "This is just a pilot to gain information for us to understand where we are, and then we'll take that data and make a determination on how we want to move forward."
• The future of tuition assistance
The Army shut off the popular Tuition Assistance program in 2013 because of budgetary constraints, but the program has since been reinstated and is looking good going into the future.
"We're a big advocate of Tuition Assistance and college," Chandler said. "We believe we've got enough money to sustain the program into the future."
• Future promotion opportunities
Some soldiers expressed concern about shrinking promotion opportunities as the Army gets smaller.
Odierno and Chandler assured them that there is still room for advancement in the service.
"From 2004 to 2012, the Army was growing," Odierno said. "Because it was growing, we were promoting people faster. Frankly, I would make the argument we were promoting people too fast."
The Army's ongoing drawdown will make it more difficult to get promoted, but the opportunities still exist for soldiers with the right balance of training, education and experience, he said.
"We want to promote the right people so we maintain a strong Army," Odierno said. "There are going to be opportunities for promotions. We've got to have promotions. People want to move forward. But it's not going to be as fast as it was four years ago or five years ago because we were growing the Army."
• Rotating brigades into Korea
This year, the Army will inactivate the 2nd Infantry Division's 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team in South Korea, and replace it with rotational units.
The move is being made for two reasons, Odierno said.
"What we started to figure out is we were having some readiness issues," he said. The Army was rotating a large number of soldiers individually into because we were rotating 700 to 800 soldiers every months into the 2nd Infantry Division, he said.
This meant the soldiers were constantly in training, leading to reduced readiness.
A whole brigade that has trained together at home station will bring much higher levels of readiness to a volatile region, he said.
The second reason is to allow the Army, as it downsizes, to maintain its focus on the mission in South Korea, Odierno said.
"We started rotating a battalion this year, and we think it's gone pretty well," he said. "That was kind of a test, so we're pretty excited about that."
• The impact of the drawdown on readiness and training
The Army must maintain a higher level of readiness than in the past even though — and because — it's getting smaller, Odierno said.
This requires an investment in training and leader development, he said.
"We're still about two or three years away from getting to the place I want us to be in term of having that right balance of readiness and investments," he said.
But the Army has been slowly increasing its readiness with each year, so it's "making progress," Odierno said.
"The best way to take care of our soldiers is making sure they're prepared to accomplish the mission we ask them to do," he said. "I realize that in this time period of downsizing and reduced resources we're a little out of balance right now, but we're working as hard as we can to get back into balance over the next couple of years."
• What's next for the Army?
"The world we live in has changed significantly,"' Odierno said. "Whether we like it or not, everything we do is more public, and information moves quickly. We have to be adaptive in an environment where information is available in great volumes. We have to develop leaders who feel comfortable operating in that environment, individuals who can move quickly in that environment."