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Acting secretary: Army needs to send funding message, fix asset ‘mismatch’

One of the great challenges facing Army leaders is conveying the precarious situation the Army faces after years of budget sequestration, repeated continuing resolutions and 16 years of sustained combat deployments, the service’s acting secretary said this week. 

Acting Army Secretary Robert M. Speer, who has been in the role for seven months, received rounds of applause and thanks from members of the Association of the U.S. Army this past week as he sat down for a question-and-answer session with the AUSA president, retired Gen. Carter F. Ham

Speer said he can’t tell Congress what to do, he can only share with them the effects of not acting.

“I can just tell them what the negative impact to readiness, to force structure, to families and the future of our Army is and that is long-term readiness,” said Speer, a former Army comptroller and assistant secretary for financial management.

But the Army’s biggest enemy might be its own culture, Speer said.

A retired Army colonel, Speer said the “can-do” attitude of Army leaders often makes it difficult for them to be blunt about the lack of resources and the reality that they can’t do it all – conduct global operations with the smallest force since World War II while simultaneously trying to modernize and refit for the next stage of highly complex, technical and demanding warfare.

It’s been equally difficult during his seven-month tenure, he said, to explain to the American people the vast array of things the Army does from peacekeeping to Army Corps of Engineers construction to warfighting and deterrence.

Those missions, alongside the work of the other branches, help maintain both U.S. and global economic success due to the military’s ability to maintain national security, Speer said.

BRAC impact

A thorny but important topic that Ham raised was questions about cost savings in a potential new round of Base Realignment and Closure hearings, which are being batted about in political circles, he said.

The general asked why a new round of BRAC would be needed if the end strength of the Army is rising and questions about whether the last round in 2005 saved money.

Speer quickly brushed aside cost concerns, saying BRAC does save the military money even if the numbers don’t reflect that in the short term, as the savings play out in the long run.

Also, he said there is a mismatch between base resources and the current state and future direction of the Army that needs to be corrected. Another BRAC round could help fix that, he said.

Speer said the Army has “20 percent excess capacity” and “some misaligned capacity” that could be corrected.

Debate on rotations

Down to the unit level, Ham asked Speer which is better, having forces forward stationed or on a rotational basis overseas. 

Forces in Europe and South Korea have, in recent years, switched to rotational brigades.

Speer offered a nuanced opinion, saying that when he toured Europe the ground brigade commanders said they learned more from the preparation and execution of rotating than they ever could have otherwise.

But the aviation combat brigade commanders said that knowledge of the airspace and facilities was more difficult to acquire on a rotation than it would have been if the unit was based permanently forward.

Speer is expected to leave his post when either the Army secretary or undersecretary nominees are confirmed. President Donald Trump’s nominees for those posts are Mark T. Esper and Ryan McCarthy.

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