JANUARY 17, 2020 – The nominee to be Army’s next undersecretary testified before Congress Thursday, pledging to confront four challenges now seen across the service.
If confirmed, James E. McPherson, who has served as the Army’s general counsel since last January, said he would focus on ways to stem suicide, sexual assault/harassment and domestic violence among the ranks as well as improve family housing.
Touching on the Army’s People Strategy, McPherson, a retired Navy lawyer and former Army military policeman, said the service is a “people business” and its greatest strength are its Soldiers, families, civilians and retirees.
“This philosophy has been a critical driver to numerous initiatives directed at improving the quality of life for our people,” he testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Capitol Hill.
Until last month when he was officially nominated, McPherson had also been performing the duties of the Army undersecretary since July when Ryan McCarthy became the Army secretary.
Among those four concerns, McPherson noted that the 2018 annual suicide report revealed the highest suicide rate in its ranks since 2001 when the Defense Department started tracking such data.
“As the general counsel, I see every report of a Soldier who takes his or her own life,” he said. “Although we have numerous programs to address this problem, we must do more.”
He then spoke of a 2018 DOD biennial survey that showed an increase in the prevalence of sexual assault, primarily against female service members between the ages of 17 to 24.
“One sexual assault is one too many,” he told lawmakers. “We must do more, and we must do better.”
With about 113,000 Soldiers currently deployed to 140 countries, McPherson also promised to continue the Army’s push on readiness and modernization efforts.
He touted new technology, including the Integrated Visual Augmentation System, a battlefield heads-up display that is on a fast track to be fielded in fiscal year 2021.
After he saw a demonstration of it last month at Fort Pickett, Virginia, he called the collaboration between acquisition and requirements teams, the vendor and Soldiers who tested the googles a “tremendous step in the right direction.”
To fund new equipment, McPherson said the Army will resume its “night court” sessions that have already diverted at least $30 billion from low priority programs into ones that meet future goals.
“Going forward, we need to continue to fund those modernization efforts,” he said.
He also remained confident the Army would reach its recruiting goal this year, following a stronger emphasis on marketing.
Last year, the service moved its marketing arm, now called Army Enterprise Marketing Office, away from its location near the Pentagon to Chicago in hopes to tap into more industry talent. The office will work with a newly hired marketing firm, also based in Chicago, he said.
Further, the Army created a new functional area, FA 58, for officers who will be dedicated to marketing efforts. Applications for positions from captain to colonel are now being selected until this Sunday.
McPherson, if confirmed, said he will join other senior leaders to bolster recruiting efforts by visiting 22 target cities that are underrepresented in Army formations.
Many Soldiers have also decided to stay in uniform, he said. In the first quarter of this fiscal year, the Army hit 94 percent of its reenlistment rate.
“Soldiers want to stay in even though there is great opportunity in the marketplace, in the civilian world,” he said, “because we provide them a sense of service, a sense of fulfillment and that they can make a difference in our Army.”
By Sean Kimmons, Army News Service