Building a strong partnership between the Army’s conventional and the special operations forces is one of the service’s key areas of focus as it transitions from operations in Afghanistan and looks toward the future, said Dr. Joseph W. Westphal, Army under secretary during his visit to Fort Bragg Tuesday.
Westphal was quick to point out that the Army remains fully engaged in its current mission in Afghanistan, but is also focusing on developing its strategy for the future.
“We’re not focusing less on the mission in Afghanistan,” he said. “I was just there with the vice chief of staff, General Lloyd J. Austin III. We have a lot, yet to do there to sustain the training of the Afghan forces and their military police, who are making great progress. That progress is critical to our ability to eventually leave Afghanistan in good shape.
“We should be very focused on that mission. We still have about 60,000 American Soldiers still in harm’s way there and we’re going to make sure we support them and give them the appropriate resources they need to finish the job,” Westphal said.
He acknowledged that the Army also has other responsibilities. One of those includes a seamless transition into a force that is capable of providing decisive results across a full range of missions, including humanitarian, joint force and support to civil authorities. He said an area that would receive a closer look is the Asia-Pacific region.
“We’re focused on transitioning to a strategy that places a greater focus on the Asia-Pacific region of the world. It’s a huge area in terms of trade and commerce and it is of strategic importance to the United States’ national security. So we’re very focused on re-balancing our overall effort to that region,” Westphal explained.
The under secretary said the force is also dealing with various budget issues that require leaders to think about how to re-shape the force of the future, a process that has garnered attention from Army secretary, John McHugh, and Gen. Ray T. Odierno, the Army’s chief of staff.
During his trip to Fort Bragg, Westphal visited with leaders at the U.S. Army Forces Command, including Gen. David M. Rodriguez, FORSCOM’s commanding general; the XVIII Airborne Corps, where he met with Lt. Gen. Daniel B. Allyn, XVIII Airborne Corps and Fort Bragg commanding general and the U.S. Army Special Operations Command, where he was met by Lt. Gen. Charles T. Cleveland, USASOC commanding general, .
“I had a tremendous visit today, starting with Forces Command. There’s tremendous work being done to shape the force of the future here to align it with our (Army force generation) model,” Westphal said during his visit with internal media at the Fort Bragg Silver ramp at nearby Pope Field. “Then, we were off to see our Special Forces and see some of their training capabilities. I saw some amazing things today. It tells me a lot about our Army, the strength of our formation, the way we develop and train, and the priorities that we set. I came away being truly impressed with what SOF is doing across all of its components.”
Westphal said he was also impressed with Fort Bragg’s paratroopers and Soldiers.
As the Army transitions to a unified, land-operations concept, special and conventional forces are expect to become more integrated in the Army’s overall mission, he said.
“I saw that relationship in the last training exercise, the decisive action training exercise that we had at Fort Polk, Louisiana, and it worked extremely well,” Westphal said. “I think it’s been working very well in theater and it continues to work in terms of our developing strategic alignment.”
Westphal pointed out the partnership of SOF and the conventional Army force is a key element in the Army’s new strategy.
“I think it’s the way of the future and I think conventional forces and SOF are ready-made to work together to create a strong capability to meet the challenges that we may face in the future,” he said.
Strength and versatility are key attributes that the Army must maintain in the future he added.
“One of the things that people don’t understand about our Army is that over its 237 years, it has been very successful at shaping the environment to basically, not engage us in war and to sustain peace,” he explained. “I think that’s what we’re looking for this Army to do. It’s a versatile Army, of tremendous diversity in its capabilities and with that, we hope it can shape an environment that can keep us out of harm’s way.”
Westphal pointed out that Fort Bragg is a critical asset to the future of the Army and to the country. He noted that he does not expect to see any significant changes taking place at Fort Bragg in the future, but cautioned that pending any future budget cuts, it’s too early to tell for sure.
“I think the elements that are here, and sustaining that capability is going to be critical to our force in the future, so I think Bragg is in good standing,” he added.
Westphal said Families and Army civilians are also important elements in the Army readiness, emphasizing that the Army is fully committed to taking care of Soldiers and their Families.
“We’ve made a lot of effort to look at duplication, redundancy and to eliminate programs that aren’t needed in favor of programs that are needed for Families,” he explained.
Vigilance is of the utmost importance as the Army continues to face the challenges of a world that has become more dangerous he added.
“The United States is no longer an island. We’re vulnerable, as we saw ourselves attacked in 2001. Now here we are in 2012, worrying about a significant amount of turmoil in other parts of the world,” he said. “I think the United States has to be vigilant.
Westphal said he was equally impressed with the amount of support that Fort Bragg and its Soldiers receive from the local community.
“Fayetteville and all of the surrounding communities have always impressed me every time I’ve come here, in terms of their support of our men and women in uniform and our civilians,” he said. “I think it’s a great community environment. I believe that this is an incredibly rich environment to not only grow as Families and as individuals, but, in which to develop and shape the force of the future. Fort Bragg is a great place.”