Sixty-seven years into its existence, the Association of the United States Army is at an inflection point, according to its president.
So is the Army, retired Gen. Carter Ham told Army Times in a Sept. 21 interview, 100 years after World War I thrust the U.S. military into an expeditionary role for the first time.
“We are really focusing on our core. Why is it that we exist? We were established as a professional development, educational organization in 1950, and that is what we need to do,” Ham said.
Appropriately, Carter and his team gave this year’s AUSA annual meeting a reflective theme: “Building Readiness: America’s Army from the Great War to Multi-Domain Battle.”
Ham sat down with Army Times to talk about what to expect from this year’s conference. Questions and answers have been edited for brevity and clarity.
Q. How did you come up with this year’s theme?
A. The World War I aspect was pretty obvious. This is the centennial of America’s involvement in World War I, and, for the Army, that is so very important because 1917 is really when the American Army grew from being essentially a constabulary force to being a global power.
So it was important, I think, to comment on that and include that in the theme. Most of the Army divisions that are in existence today were formed in 1917.
It also fit a theme that resonates today, that the Army of 1917 was ill-prepared, ill-equipped, ill-trained, ill-manned, ill-led for the challenges ahead. So that theme seemed to be pretty fitting for the circumstance that we find ourselves [today].
Certainly the Army is much, much better led, better manned, better equipped, but as the challenges that the Army faces today have evolved, there are still significant gaps in both capabilities and capacity for what the Army needs.
Q. What’s new and different at this year’s meeting?
A. People who have come to the AUSA meeting for a number of years will notice a couple of changes.
The annual meeting will begin early on Monday morning, not with a breakfast, but it is going to begin with PT in an obstacle course. I think that is exciting. It seems to bring some energy.
The secretary of defense will speak at the opening ceremony, and Secretary [Jim] Mattis, I am very thankful that he has agreed to join us. We all admire him and look forward to his vision, a public articulation of his vision of how he sees the Army contributing to the joint fight, and how he sees the Army changing for the future.
We will see a larger number of international participants in the annual meeting. I am very excited about that. I think up to 50-some-odd countries will be represented, a larger than normal grouping of Army chiefs from other nations.
On the final day, the deputy secretary of defense and the acting secretary of the Army will talk specifically about modernization, and, I suspect, about acquisition reform. So the insight from those two very senior civilian leaders will be very useful, and then we will culminate with a great event with Gary Sinise and the presentation of the Marshall Medal.
So there will be some subtle changes, rather than dramatic changes, but it will be fun. It always is. This is a professional development forum, so that part of it, the serious part of it is vitally important, but there is also an aspect to the AUSA annual meeting that is a little bit of a family reunion. It’s okay to celebrate being a soldier and being part of the Army family, and we will do some of that, to include a concert by Mark Wills on Tuesday evening that will be open to all of the participants.
Q. Is making the AUSA annual meeting more interactive for soldiers, beyond panels and presentations, a priority for you?
A. There certainly are lots of senior officials, both civilian and military, who will come to this as part of either their professional development or to engage with industry and explore more capabilities, but the more that we can make this attractive to young soldiers, mid-grade noncommissioned officers, senior officers, to say, “Hey, come learn about your Army.”
I think one of the things that certainly astounded me as I grew up in the Army, almost every day you come across stuff that’s like, “I didn’t know the Army did that. I didn’t know the Army had [that].” Even as recently as my last assignment in Africa, I had no idea that the Army had medical laboratories in Africa.
So I think that’s one of the beautiful parts of the annual meeting, is the exposure to people about the great breadth of the United States Army and how it affects all of us in ways that are seen and sometimes unseen.
Q. What’s the state of AUSA? What are some of your proudest moments this year and goals for next year?
A. The thing I am most proud of over the past year plus that I have been here has been our growth in membership. Over not quite a year, we have grown from just over 60,000 to now over 75,000. That, to me, is very, very exciting as we move forward. So that is what I am most proud of.
I am very proud of AUSA’s support and vital contribution to the National Museum of the United States Army. The fact is quite simple: if AUSA had not stepped in a couple of years ago and made a pledge to build the Army Museum, it would not be happening, but it is happening. The construction is ahead of schedule, [and in] 2019 there is going to be a museum that all of the Army, all of the nation can be a part of. I am very, very happy that AUSA is a key part of that.
In our 121 chapters, I see a vibrancy, I see a renewed energy, Our great volunteer leadership across the country and, indeed, across the world are seeking ways to more actively connect the Army to their community.
I think that is something that we all need. If the Army is viewed to be separate from American society, that is not a healthy place to be, so AUSA does serve a vital role in connecting the Army to America through its communities, and I think that is something of which I am quite proud.