WASHINGTON (Army News Service, June 25, 2015) – Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno hosted his final Facebook town hall, June 24, replying to nearly 200 comments addressing a range of concerns.
Of priority for many Soldiers was any potential change to the military retirement program.
Odierno hit upon the issue of the cost of living adjustments, or COLA, changes, which would cap retirement pay at 1 percentage point below annual inflation measures.
The change, a part of the Bipartisan Budget Act, would save the Department of Defense more than $6.3 billion, according to the Congressional Budget Office, but could potentially cost retirees more than $100,000 during their lifetime, based upon the rate of inflation.
Odierno assured the online community that the Joint Chiefs of Staff are working with Congress to stop efforts at COLA caps and a proposal, which would reduce pensions while allowing Soldiers to receive benefits before their 20 years of service. He also said the proposed retirement plan, which includes government contributions to the Thrift Savings Plan, or TSP, will not affect current retirees or those now on active duty.
“I believe there is strong support for a hybrid retirement program which includes a matching contribution and a guaranteed benefit,” Odierno replied. “But everyone currently serving on active duty is grandfathered.”
Moving away from retirement concerns, Odierno turned his attention to another topic that has cropped up in recent news: women in combat. Since admitting 19 women to the Ranger School assessment course in April, the possibility of opening other military occupational specialties, or MOSs, and schools has been discussed.
One Soldier looking to train as a combat engineer supporting front-line infantry, commented on women attending the Sapper Leader Course and said the inclusion of women in Ranger School should pave the way for non-engineers to apply to the Sapper School.
Odierno steered the Soldier’s attention to the fact that female enrollment in Ranger School is a pilot program, designed to test the efficacy of female involvement. He continued to say that, “the requirement for Rangers crosses a variety of MOSs, where Sapper School is specific to [the] 12 series MOS. If in the future, [if] we believe there’s a requirement for Sapper expertise in other MOSs, we’ll take a look at opening it up.”
Addressing the women currently serving, Odierno turned his attention to one female Soldier suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, after she was assaulted by her first sergeant and found difficulty reporting the attack.
“We hold the chain of command responsible for creating an environment of trust, where Soldiers believe they can perform their duties. We are changing the culture within the Army that will not allow such behavior,” Odierno wrote.
Comingled concerns of promotion and personnel reductions frequented the comment thread from those looking to enlist, to advance or to maintain their station.
To address concerns, Odierno explained that the budget must be balanced.
“We are continuing to execute military and civilian strength reductions based on our reduced budget. We are trying to balance our end strength with our readiness and modernization needs,” he said.
Joining Odierno online was Sgt. Maj. of the Army Daniel A. Dailey, who assuaged concerns about opportunities for noncommissioned officer, or NCO, advancement and education.
“The chief of staff of the Army has offered us 75 new broadening opportunities for NCOs,” Dailey said. “We are realigning those broadening opportunities to provide leader development across a wider range of NCOs. We continue to evaluate and refine NCO education on a regular basis.”
Odierno added an additional promise to speak with the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command, or TRADOC, about enhancing its programs. “I want to do everything we can in order to ensure our officers and NCOs get the appropriate training so they’re prepared to lead our young men and women,” he said.
Moving overseas, Odierno tackled concerns regarding the Islamic State and Army involvement in training foreign militias and/or militaries.
“In order to defeat ISIS [Islamic State of Iraq and Levant], it’s going to take an effort of many nations and must be led by the nations in the Middle East. This cannot be a U.S. effort alone,” he said.
He pointed out that Iraqi security forces had been well trained until the United States pulled out of Iraq in 2011 and that, given the chance to do so again in the right political environment, the United States could “train the Iraqi security forces to the level necessary.”
Closing his Facebook session, Odierno addressed Army aesthetics and his own legacy.
Responding to one user’s questions about the new Army uniform, Odierno typed that the improved camouflage pattern out-performed the current uniforms and it was “imperative that we move to the new uniform to … further protect our Soldiers as they conduct operations around the world.”
To another commenter, who asked why Soldiers cannot roll up their sleeves, Odierno replied, “we train as we fight. All studies say that sleeves down are the appropriate way to protect our Soldiers in garrison and in combat.”
Lastly, Odierno assured the Facebook community that he would not be running for political office next year and to “look for him on the golf course.”
“The strength of our nation is our Army,” said Odierno, as he signed off. “The strength of our Army is our Soldiers. The strength of our Soldiers is our Families…and that is what makes us Army strong!”