ORLANDO, Fla. (June 19, 2015) – Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno understandably has a lot on his mind while serving as the senior uniformed officer in the Department of the Army. Some responsibilities, though, weigh more heavily on his mind than others.
During a town hall meeting with members of the Program Executive Office, Simulation, Training and Instrumentation, or PEO STRI, here, June 15, he said what keeps him up at night is worrying about sending Soldiers into harm’s way without the proper training. The combination of a drastically reduced budget, and a drawdown in troop strength and unknown contingencies is what causes those restless nights, he said.
“Today, we are creating enough readiness to meet our current operational commitments,” Odierno said. “If something happens and they want us to send 25,000 Soldiers somewhere, though, I am not sure those Soldiers are going to be trained. That means it will cost lives and I have a real problem with that. When we are having discussions about budgets and dollars today it might look fine, but tomorrow it could be affecting the lives of our young men and women. That’s what keeps me up at night!”
When those budget discussions take place, he said one question he has constantly been asked during his past four years serving as chief of staff is “why do we even need an Army?” That question, he said, really bothers him. He said he is quick to ask a few questions of his own in response and offer a different question, which they should be asking.
“Why do you think we have 143,000 Soldiers deployed in more than 150 countries? Who were the first Soldiers to show up in Eastern Europe when there was a problem? Who were the Soldiers responding to the troubles in the Middle East? Who is doing the work in 12 different countries in Africa? What you should be asking is what we can do to make us a better Army,” Odierno said.
Making a better Army and ensuring Soldiers are trained and ready for the next contingencies regardless of the challenges thrown his way is exactly what he is focused on doing, he said, telling the PEO STRI audience that is where they play a major role.
“The great work that you have to do is ensure that we are able to train our Soldiers, whether it be on individual weapons systems, marksmanship ranges, a conduct of fire trainer facility for tank gunners or facilities for us to shoot our Bradley’s,” he said. “We have to continue to make sure that we improve those and have the best systems possible.”
Those systems, he said, should be used to get the Army back to doing tough, realistic home-station training to build capacity and capability before conducting live training.
“We have to have a building block program that starts with individual- and platoon-level simulations training that then goes to individual- and platoon-level live training; company-simulations training, company-live training; battalion-simulations training, battalion-live training; brigade-simulations training, brigade-live training and then on to a training center. That’s the kind of training we want to see all of our units doing. For me, it’s absolutely essential for us in the future.”
Another aspect of future training requirements, the chief feels is absolutely essential, is working as a team on those requirements. He praised the PEO STRI team for doing just that.
“I have been pleased that over the past year or so PEO STRI, the Training and Doctrine Command and the Department of the Army have been actively building on that,” he said. “We have to be talking with each other as we develop requirements and new techniques. If we don’t, we will start wasting dollars and we won’t get the capabilities that we need.
“I have seen some of the work you have done. I have seen the difference that it makes. I challenge all of you to continue to be innovative. Take some chances. Come up with systems and capabilities that are going to make us a better Army. By doing that, you will be responsible for saving many lives in the future.”
Going forward, he said, two major challenges will be determining the right balance between simulated training and live training and preparing Soldiers for the different cultural and geographical operations they may find themselves in.
“How do we do simulation training in a more realistic way that makes it easier for our Soldiers to translate that when they have to do it live?” he asked. “How do we provide them the feedback they need in order to assess themselves and their platoons, companies, battalions and brigades so they can do it better next time?
“The other challenge is we might be asking some groups of Soldiers to be prepared to go to Europe; another group to do some operations in Africa or the Middle East and they are all different. How do we build the flexibility in our systems that allows us to do that? That’s why I thought it was really important for me to come down here because you all play such a critical role in all of that.”
In meeting those challenges, Odierno cautioned that when building future requirements, acquiring the perfect solution should not necessarily be the goal. He said in the past that has not always proven the most efficient and effective path to take.
“When we go after utopia it takes us 10 to 12 years in the process and we end up not getting there and have a failed program,” he said. “We have to be realistic in tradeoffs.”
He used the M1 Abrams tank, which entered service in 1980, as an example of how it should be done when developing new requirements.
“It is still, right now, the best tank in the world. It is nothing like the first M1 tank. We built it and left room for constant upgrades and improvements,” the general said. “Though maybe we didn’t have the best tank initially, we continued to develop the right requirements that enabled us to use current technology.”
In closing, he talked about the recently-released new Army Operating Concept, which outlines where the Army needs to go into the future. He said it means looking at how the Army can bring the effects of air, sea, space and cyber space to the ground in order to be successful.
“How do we integrate those capabilities across all of the domains on the ground? How do we train for that” he asked. “You have to help us figure that out.”