"I have said that readiness is my No. 1 priority, and I absolutely, firmly believe that, and that No. 1 priority is not going to change the four years that I am the chief of staff," Milley said in an interview with Army Times. "To me, that is a moral commitment. That is an ethical commitment. To me, the greatest sin that I can commit is for me to send soldiers into harm's way that are not ready, that they are undermanned, underequipped, not properly trained, poorly led, and that will result in soldiers being killed or wounded. I cannot look myself in the mirror with that."
For Milley, readiness has to extend not only to the active Army, but to the Army National Guard and Army Reserve as well.
"What we cannot allow, what we must guard against, is a hollow Army," he said. "We cannot permit that. We cannot allow ourselves to have formations that are unready. War is a very unforgiving business. It is a very, very deadly, unforgiving environment, and it is an environment that does not care what the patch on your shoulder is. It does not care how many speeches generals or other people give about how good we are. It is a crucible of combat that is unforgiving, and if you are unready, you are going to suffer enormous casualties. I cannot allow that. None of us can."
To tackle the problem, the Army needs predictable funding, Milley said.
"I certainly do not want, nobody wants smaller, less capable forces, nobody wants less ready forces or any of that," Milley said. "So the budget situation is very, very concerning. What we want is a predictable, steady stream of funding from which we can plan against."
Every time there is a continuing resolution or the budget is cut, the Army's options are to reduce readiness, modernization or end-strength, he said.
As Army chief of staff, Milley must then ensure units and troops have enough funding for manning, training, equipping and leadership functions, he said.
"That means I have got to make sure that leaders go to school, as an example," he said. "I have got to make sure that units are resourced moneywise, budgetwise, to conduct sufficient home station training and conduct rotations at the combat training centers. I have got to make sure that money is committed to ensure that their equipment has got spare parts and the maintenance of their equipment so that their equipment is in a combat-ready status. I have got make sure that units are properly filled with the numbers of people and that we do not have units that are filled 60 percent or 65 percent and we call them a unit."
Another constant for Milley is taking care of soldiers and their families.
"I was taught a long time ago as a young lieutenant, take care of mission and men, and the mission is not going to be accomplished unless the soldiers are being taken care of," he said.
This means taking care of soldiers in terms of training, readiness and personally.
"The ultimate form of taking care of soldiers is making sure they come home with their dog tags and their bodies are whole," Milley said.
But there also are more pragmatic issues like making sure soldiers have access to good schools and barracks, health care for their families, and adequate compensation, Milley said.
"That is also a no-fail thing," Milley said. "That is a day-to-day task of any leader."
America gifts the Army with their sons and daughters, Milley said.
"We have an obligation to take care of them, and the failure to do so, there is no excuse for that for a leader," he said. "If we take care of them in a very real, true sense as if they were your family, then they will accomplish the mission. There is no doubt in my mind."
While the Army must focus on the current fight, it also cannot neglect planning and preparing for the future, Milley said.
"I cannot ignore what is just over the hill," he said. "This is an Army that will exist in the 2025, 2030 time frame. I've got to put a lot of energy into that as well because you cannot stop time, and whatever that Army is going to look like in 2025, 10 years from now, or 2030, 15 years from now, the decisions … are being made right now."
Another one of his focus areas is the modernization of equipment, Milley said.
"We have got to explore, experiment and then lay down the requirements for it, and ultimately acquire equipment that is appropriate for a battlefield that we anticipate in a 2025, 2030, 2035, 2040 time frame," he said. "What is that world going to look like? What is the security situation of that world 15 to 20 to 25 years from now? So you have got to figure that out first."
Once that is in place, the Army must determine the capabilities, doctrine, equipment and force structure it will need in the future, he said.
Gen. Mark Milley, the new Army chief of staff, says taking care of soldiers as if they are family is vitally important to accomplishing the mission.
Photo Credit: Mike Morones/Staff
"That is hard, and it is work that has been ongoing for quite some time," Milley said.
Since he was sworn in Aug. 14, Milley has already visited commanders and leaders in Iraq, Afghanistan, Jordan, Israel, the Sinai, Europe and Asia.
"The Army is a big organization, just under a million strong, spread out throughout the world," Milley said. "Relatively quickly, I thought it important to get out to the operational areas. I have deployed a lot over the years, but it is always an important thing to frequently get out, troop the line and hear the views of the commanders that are out there."
During his visit to Iraq, Milley was confronted with a "very, very complicated situation," he said.
In addition to a sectarian Sunni-Shia conflict, "you have got a wide variety of competing organizations, adversary groups, terrorist groups that are operating" there, he said. Also in play are the Iraqi and Syrian governmental forces, local militias and radical Islamic terrorist groups. There are tribal dynamics, ethnic dynamics and religious dynamics, as well as historical border disputes, Milley said.
"It's so very complex … and there are no easy solutions, none whatsoever," he said. "[But] the fundamental solution has got to be an indigenous solution. There is no solution that is likely to succeed in the long-term that could be externally imposed."
In Iraq, this means the Iraqi government is going to have to reach out to the Sunni population. It means Iraqi security forces have to "become more aggressive and more offensively minded in order to defeat [the Islamic State group] militarily, and it is going to be the combination of political action and military action that leads to some sort of enduring solution," he said.
The United States and other members of the international coalition fighting the Islamic State group "cannot by ourselves solve that problem," Milley said.
"But what we can do and should do and are trying to do is to enable, to help, to assist the Iraqi Security Forces in achieving some sort of positive battlefield outcomes relative to ISIS on a daily basis," he said, using an alternative acronym for the Islamic State militant group.
For U.S. soldiers, that means continuing to train, advise and assist the Iraqis, Milley said.
"We cannot, and I do not think should, do it for them, because that will not be sustainable over time," he said.
As for whether the Army might see more troops on the ground or advisers further forward on the battlefield with Iraqi forces, Milley said it comes back to the president's strategy.
"Strategies are ends, ways and means … so the president has publicly stated the ends, which is degrade and destroy ISIS," he said. "I think that is on target, I think it is good, I think that is what we should all be leaning forward to, that is what we are geared to, and that is what we are all trying to accomplish. What you want to do in any war is you want to continually assess your assumptions, continually assess the ways and means you are going to achieve the end state."
This includes assessing the size of the force, how many and what types of troops are needed, how many airplanes or advisers are required, and how you're employing them, Milley said.
"Are you putting [joint terminal attack controllers] forward? Advising down at the brigade level?" he said.
All of these options should be considered, he said, while cautioning that any decision to put advisers closer to the fight comes with risks.
"My experience, plus my reading of history through other operations, is that the indigenous force or the force you are advising typically performs better when advisers accompany them out into various operations," Milley said. "On the other hand, you've got to weigh the complexity of the situation and the risk associated to the force, and there are judgment calls."
The question leaders must ask is whether the risks to advisers going forward are worth the benefits of improved performance in Iraqi troops, Milley said.
"Those are tough questions, and those are judgment calls, and they involved people's lives," he said. "So I think that it is worthy of consideration, and I am confident that appropriate people are reviewing all of those possibilities."
The situation in Europe is completely different from that in the Middle East, as the region grapples with Russian President Vladimir Putin, "who is aggressive, he is opportunistic, he is relatively young, very assertive," Milley said.
Beginning in the 2006 to 2008 time frame, Russia "became not only assertive but aggressive in their foreign policy, externally aggressive to the point where they attacked Georgia, they seized the Crimea, and through surrogate and asymmetric warfare, hybrid warfare, they have attacked Ukraine," Milley said.
What is challenging is trying to determine Russia's intent, Milley said.
"But an indicator of intent is behavior," he said. "So what is Russia's intent going forward into the future? I do not know, and I do not pretend to know, but I can tell you ... that their behavior has been very aggressive."
Russia's actions have created "a very significant and very serious situation," Milley said.
Not only has Russia recently modernized its military's conventional capability, its nuclear weapons pose "the only truly existential threat to the United States of America," he said.
In response, the Army has beefed up its rotational forces in Europe to provide assurance to America's NATO allies and deter Russian aggression.
"We can and should and will rotate brigades and other capabilities through Europe to plus up the amount of American ground forces that NATO has," Milley said. "Air defense capabilities, engineering capabilities, mechanized armor capabilities, special operations capabilities and so on and so forth."
The Army also wants to grow its equipment stocks in Europe, Milley said.
"In the event of a contingency, that will speed up our response times to go ahead and move ground forces if required," he said. "So we think that it is a smart thing and go ahead and reevaluate, relook our pre-positioned stocks that are in Europe."
As tensions continue to simmer in the region, the Army will continue to push forward with its work with its allies, Milley said.
"Nobody wants a military conflict with Russia. The Russians do not want a military conflict with us, we do not want a military conflict with them," he said. "In order to do that, we need to deter Russian aggression, and we need to assure our allies that the NATO alliance is strong, and the United States is a full-fledged member of NATO, and we will fulfill our commitments."