Chief of Staff says Army leaders will need to trust subordinates more in the future

Secretary of the Army Eric Fanning and Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley during a press conference at AUSA. (Photo: Ward Carroll)

Secretary of the Army Eric Fanning and Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley during a press conference at AUSA. (Photo: Ward Carroll)

WASHINGTON, DC — The U.S. Army’s two senior-most leaders tag-teamed responses to questions posed by a gathering of military journalists at a press conference held on the first day of the Association of the United States Army’s Annual Meeting and Exposition here, and in the process the pair presented a mixed bag of concerns and optimism.

“Across our force, we have soldiers and civilians living and working in 52,000 buildings that are in poor or failing condition because of the $7 billion of deferred maintenance that we’ve aggregated over the last few years,” Secretary of the Army Eric Fanning said. “Since 2011 the Army’s modernization program has decreased by 33 percent. And today our modernization program is $36 billion less than the next closest service. These are the kind of tradeoffs we’ve made over the last few years to meet our responsibilities.”

“We, the U.S. Army, we don’t have to get it exactly right, but we have to get it less wrong than any potential adversary,” Gen. Mark Milley, the Army’s Chief of Staff, added. “Up until now, we have essentially mortgaged the future of readiness for modernization.”

When asked about Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s plan to grow the Army to 548,000, Milley replied, “We do all kinds of studies. We do a lot of analysis. We do a lot of rigor. I’m not going to share those numbers, but it’s not about so much numbers. It’s about capability. We need to make sure we have the most capable Army to deliver specific effects on the battlefield. . . What does it say in the defense planning guidance, etc.? Those will vary depending on the contingencies you’re looking at.”

“One of the dangers we see with this debate taking place the Army told to maintain a force structure greater than we’re planning on without any additional resources to do that,” Fanning added. “That would put us out of whack.”

Questioned on the service’s plan to retain the right talent in the face of large drawdowns and budget challenges, Fanning answered, “Right now it is bureaucratic and bureaucracies are additive by nature. Something bad happens and you create a process to prevent it from happening again and you layer that upon another one upon another one upon another one. You don’t really have a process to cull through all that and simplify it. We’re trying to squeeze all the risk out of the process. As we draw down we need to focus not only on whether we have the right people in the force, whatever size it is, but that we are opening up the institution, the bureaucracy, to doing business in a different way.”

Milley contextualized the Army’s talent requirement against the future threat, using words like “non-linear” and “non-contiguous” to describe the battlefield and “elusive” and “ambiguous” to describe the enemy.

“Leaders are going to have to be self-starters,” he said, the opening line of what turned out to be an extended monologue of sorts.

“Leaders are going to have to have massive amounts of initiative,” Milley continued. “They’re going to have to have critical thinking skills well beyond what we normally think of today in our formations. They’re going to have to have huge amounts of character so that they make the right ethical and moral choices in the absence of supervision and the intense pressure of combat.

“They’re going to have to have a level of mental and organizational agility that is not necessarily current in any army, really. I would argue that the level of endurance of these individuals is going to have to be something that we haven’t trained to on a regular basis, where individuals are going to have to be conducting small unit level operations without higher level supervision, and they’re going to have to do that day in and day out, week in and week out, month in and month out . . . a long time.

“Last thing is that senior leaders are going to have to implicitly trust supported leaders’ judgement because of the degraded environment we’re not going to have control of the supported environment in the true sense of the word as we think of it today; we’re not going to have push-to-talk communications back in forth cause it’s going to be degraded. So these leaders are going to have to be independent of higher day-to-day instructions. I just described to you talent management that is fundamentally different than any army undertakes today. And I’m talking about an army in the field about 15, 20 years from now. I’m not talking about next week. But that’s where we’re going to have to go. And that’ll be a high standard to meet.”

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