Mattis says Army may have to take the lead in North Korea fight
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said the Army must continue to improve and evolve to face ever-changing threats.
Mattis said the Army is the greatest in the world, but it must adapt to emerging domains in space and cyberwarfare and new weapons.
“We have to make sure we aren’t dominant and irrelevant at the same time,” he said.
Citing Iran’s support of terrorism in the Middle East, North Korea’s saber-rattling in the Pacific, and Russian meddling in US elections, Mattis said the international threats facing the nation were the most complex and demanding than he has seen in decades of service.
He said the Army was facing new challenges overseas and at home, where budget constraints continue to hinder planning and modernization.
Mattis said he has confidence in Congress to do what is best for the country, but no confidence in the automatic budget cuts it created several years ago.
“I want Congress back in the driver seat of budget decisions, not the spectator seat of automatic cuts,” he said.
Mattis was the keynote speaker for the opening ceremony of the annual meeting and exposition of the Association of the United States Army, which began Oct. 9 at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington.
The three-day event brings together defense industry leaders, high-ranking Army officials, and others for professional development and discussions on the Army’s role in national defense. More than 26,000 attendees preregistered this year, along with representatives from 70 nations.
Mattis reiterated the remarks of other defense leaders who have stressed that the Army’s priority is readiness.
He said the Army must be striving to improve itself, “assuming every week in the Army is a week to get better.”
“We need you at the top of your game in body, mind, and spirit,” Mattis said.
The former Marine Corps general said the Army could look to the past when preparing for the future.
He said the military learned the hard way in the build-up to World War I that readiness was not something that could be achieved in a short amount of time.
“We know too well the costs of not being ready,” Mattis said.
Mattis said preparing for war was the best way to prevent war. He also reassured the nation’s allies in Europe and the Pacific that the Army would be there to help them if needed.
“We are with you,” he said.
On one of the most pressing threats — North Korea — Mattis said the military was not yet at the forefront.
“It is right now a diplomatically led, economic sanction-buttressed effort,” he said. But, Mattis said, that could change.
“You have got to be ready to ensure we have military options that our president can employ if needed,” he said.
Following Mattis’ remarks, officials presented several AUSA national awards, honoring former Department of Veterans Affairs secretary and retired Gen. Eric K. Shinseki; former president of the National Guard Association of the United States and retired Maj.Gen. Gus L. Hargett Jr.; retired Maj. Gen. Marcia M. Anderson; retired Sgt. Maj. Todd B. Hunter and others.
The first day of the annual meeting includes several discussions involving Fort Bragg leaders.
During a breakfast honoring members of the National Guard and Army Reserve, Gen. Robert B. “Abe” Abrams said those soldiers were integral to the readiness of the total Army.
Abrams is the commanding general of US Army Forces Command, headquartered at Fort Bragg. The command is the largest in the nation, charged with preparing forces for combat commanders around the globe.
“Our job as professionals is to be ready now,” Abrams said. “I hope no one is mistaken, we are not in an interwar period.”
In the afternoon, Abrams is to participate in another discussion, during a forum titled, “Ready Now.”
He’ll be part of a panel that also will include Maj. Gen. Joseph Martin, commanding general of the 1st Infantry Division; and Col. Christopher Norrie, chief of the operations group at the National Training Center.