The Army is at a turning point, the head of its professional association says, and it’s time to focus on getting the right funding for current missions, as well as to modernize for the future.
“How do we prepare for the changing character of war?” retired Gen. Carter Ham, president of the Association of the United States Army, told Army Times in a Sept. 21 interview. “The environment in which the Army will be thrust will be vastly different than today’s and how do we prepare leaders for that, how do we organize and operate in a very different environment than one that we have become accustomed to?”
Ham sat down with Army Times talk about what the Army’s doing right, what it needs to change and where it needs to go. Questions and answers have been edited for brevity.
Q. When you were in the Army, was readiness at the forefront as much as it is now?
A. Through my time in uniform, it was cyclical. I enlisted in 1973, and, remember, in the fall of 1973 we thought we were going to go to war in the Yom Kippur War. I was in the 82nd Airborne Division, arguably the most ready Army unit of the time, but it didn’t get the same emphasis as it did over time, particularly in the immediate post-Vietnam era.
Then, most of my career was during the Cold War. Particularly when serving in Germany, it was about near-term readiness. We really felt that we had to be ready today, so we did all that we could, but I would still argue that the equipment that we had, the level of training that we performed, the leader development programs, pale in comparison to what the Army does today.
I think in the collapse of the Soviet Union, the end of the Cold War, ... the likelihood of being called on to fight tonight, so to say, was pretty remote, so we did things other than focus on near-term readiness. And I think that we are now, after many, many years of counter-insurgency, the chief, Gen. [Mark] Milley, I think is rightfully guiding the Army back. Given the threats around the world, we really must be more ready than we have ever been before, hence that very concerted, very focused emphasis on readiness.
Q. What do you see as the things the Army should be focusing on?
A. The challenges to readiness stem from resourcing. So, as many have said, the challenges of resourcing have to be addressed. The adverse affects, the uncertainty that is caused by the Budget Control Act, the lack of predictability — what will defense spending look like in the coming years? — that is unhelpful.
That has real impacts. I believe that the Army and those of use who support the Army have not effectively conveyed the adverse affects of continuing resolutions on readiness, and there is more to be done in that regard.
I think it is certainly at or near the top of the challenges that the Army faces in terms of being able to meet its requirements for the future.
But there are structural challenges as well. Is the Army right-sized? Most would argue that the Army probably is too small in each of its three components to meet the challenges of today. I would agree with that. The real challenge is how fast and how much can the Army grow, regular Army, Army National Guard, and Army Reserve, and maintain the quality that is so essential.
So there is a sweet spot there some place. The Army can grow as fast as — you can grow the Army really fast. You can just throw money at it, you can lower standards, and you can grow the army really fast. That is, in my view, not the right approach.
I certainly would be in the camp of saying growth is necessary for at least the next couple of years to get to the level that the Army will be able to first fill the vacancies in the existing units, and then there are indeed some capacity shortfalls, short-range air defense, other elements of missile defense that probably need to grow, some logistics and sustainment elements, perhaps aviation. The Army needs more of those types of units, so force structure increases would be necessary as well.
Q. What is the Army doing right?
A. Very clearly, in my view, the leaders in the Army, from the civilian leadership to the senior officer and non-commissioned officer leadership of the Army, are rightfully focusing on people.
Unlike the other services, the Army’s weapons platform is a soldier, and the investment in those soldiers, I think, has been at the top of the list for Army leadership for a number of years.
I believe that that is right, but I believe the Army has, over a number of years, not been as good as it needs to be in delivering the equipment that those soldiers need to operate to maintain pace with adversaries and potential adversaries.
So as Gen. Milley and [Acting] Army Secretary [Ryan] McCarthy have begun to talk about — and I suspect and hope that we will hear more from them during the AUSA meeting — without shifting at all from the number one priority of readiness, what increases and improvements can be applied institutionally in modernization so that the soldiers that we have do in fact have the equipment that is necessary for a future battlefield?
Q. Milley has also talked a lot about the future battlefield and how quickly things will change. Is that a new urgency for the Army?
A. Certainly, during the majority of my time in uniform, we had a singular enemy, very dangerous period to be sure during the Cold War. There was an element of predictability, an element of stability to that. We knew them, they knew us. We knew their tactics and doctrines, they knew ours.
We studied their equipment. We knew what it looked like, we knew what their capabilities were, we assumed they did the same to us. We knew their uniforms. Again, very, very dangerous period, but predictable.
That is not what today’s Army leaders need to confront. They need to, on very, very short notice, be prepared to be thrust into a counter-insurgency somewhere, to training, advising, assisting, accompanying a foreign national force such as in Afghanistan.
They need to be prepared for a largely conventional fight on the peninsula of Korea, and they must be prepared to go deal in the aftermath of hurricanes.
That range of missions that the Army must be prepared for requires an investment in leader development, a flexibility, an agility of Army leaders that is in no way compared to what I had to deal with growing up.