Gen. Randy George begins his tenure leading the Army as it faces a period of rapid change, competition with adversaries across the globe and a strained force. The new chief of staff intends to fuel that fight by distilling the complex set of challenges facing the force into a singular goal: ensuring the service is the best warfighting organization it can be.
The general was once a private, having enlisted out of his Iowa hometown, but by 1984 he was at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. Graduating in 1988, the infantry officer first saw combat with the 101st Airborne Division as part of Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm only two years later.
That operational career has informed how he wants to lead the Army through the coming years amid old and new demands on a smaller Army that’s expected to be everywhere it’s needed when called.
George, 58, talked with Army Times about his four focus areas, the generals he’s tasked with leading those efforts and what he expects from soldiers across the force.
The four areas sound simple but cover a wide range of what the Army, the largest service, must do to compete in today’s world and, if necessary, win in a conflict.
Those areas are warfighting, continuous transformation, strengthening the profession and delivering ready combat formations.
In George’s mind, each of those areas folds into a singular goal: Making the Army the world’s most effective fighting force.
Preparing for war
To lead this effort, George intends to draw on leaders with a lot of stars on their shoulders — Gen. Charles Flynn, over at U.S. Army Pacific, Gen. Andrew Poppas, with Forces Command, and Gen. Darryl Williams, of U.S. Army Europe and Africa.
Those three generals either oversee forces overseas directly or, as in Poppas’ case, manage all of what flows those forces into planned or emergency deployments.
Much of the process is working, but refining and improving the system, George said, will improve readiness for the Army and the joint partners it supports in every theater.
“The Army is doing a great job meeting all of our requirements globally — I want us to continually look at how we get better at managing home station training, [operational tempo], and transformation so units have the appropriate time to meet their requirements and get the time they need to rest, refit, and stay connected with their families,” George said.
One of the ways he expects to do that is to reduce the strain on commanders, especially lower-echelon leaders.
He shared an example wherein even a company-level commander could be responsible for a 118-page property book. Much of that gear may have served a purpose at one point but is either so rarely used or not needed for combat that it’s simply weighing down the commander and their unit with added inventory, maintenance and other duties.
“If you’re spending time laying out equipment, servicing equipment that you don’t use or need or are not going to combat with, then we shouldn’t have that inside of the formation,” George said.
The chief wants the Army to find ways to conduct “passive inventory,” which entails electronic tracking of materials, instead of people hauling out gear and marking paper sheets to know what they have and where it is — similar to how Walmart or Amazon might review their wares.
He wants to cut obsolete or irrelevant equipment from those property books and has a pilot program starting this month to do so.
The end result would buy back time for commanders and soldiers, he said.
“What it should do is free up more time to train but it should also make it easier for going home at night, spending time with their family,” George said. “If they save 100 hours and they spend 20 more hours at the range and 80 hours off, I’m good with that. That’s 20 more hours on the range.”
To put that in motion, George has tasked Poppas at FORSCOM and Gen. Charles Hamilton, over Army Materiel Command to select two divisions to reduce their non-essential inventory within three months, starting in October.
“I’ve asked AMC and FORSCOM to spearhead this effort within XVIII (Airborne) Corps,” he said. “The goal is to get leaner, lighter, and less complex to allow those units to focus on their warfighting mission. There is no numeric goal tied to it, but I want unit commanders and NCOs to feed into this process.”
That effort may provide a template for the rest of the Army’s divisions, but with such a quick turn, there will also be ways to improve. But George doesn’t want to dissect those types of changes from the Pentagon, he wants units to do the work and see what happens.
“Part of that is moving out. We may not be exactly where we want but the point is when you say you’re going to do something, you need to show you’re serious about it,” George said.
The chief sees taking action in those types of scenarios as the best way to show the force he’s serious about change and prioritizing warfighting.
Beyond equipment, the acting chief wants to trim or eliminate much of the administrative strain of entering data or jumping through hoops with unnecessary online training.
In a recent presentation at Fort Moore, Georgia, the chief was explicit with the maneuver force audience.
“If there are things on your training schedule that are not making you more lethal or more cohesive where you’re taking care of your teammates, then you need to have a discussion about taking that off the schedule and not doing it,” George said.
He backed that up, telling commanders at Fort Moore to remove online pre-course requirements for one of their command courses.
Having led at nearly every operational level, George has watched the number of pieces of equipment in command centers on the battlefield grow exponentially, making the operational centers cumbersome and clunky.
It’s a problem the Army’s been seeking to change for at least the past decade. But the chief has an even more ambitious aim than simply cutting out a few pieces of equipment or having a nice folding tent on the back of a vehicle that makes a mobile operations center.
George envisions a commander needing no more than a tablet to share an operating picture of his or her forces with their staff, sitting in the back of a Stryker or other such vehicle.
Gen. James Rainey, over Army Futures Command, will lead the continuous transformation effort, evolving the Army to be ready for current and future threats.
Rainey spoke in September at the Maneuver Warfighter Conference at Fort Moore, Georgia and laid out a stark assessment of what warfighting will demand of soldiers in an era that threatens peer-level, large-scale combat.
“I think we got to be a little more clear about the horror and difficulty of the fighting that we’re going to have to do,” Rainey said.
And while technology is enabling some futuristic capabilities in cyber, data and electronic warfare that might have seemed impossible a few years ago, war is still war.
“Technology increases the punishment of unskilled commanders in untrained units,” Rainey said. “If you’re not good, if you’re not prepared, you’re going to pay for it at an unprecedented level.”
Long-range fires, cyber-infrastructure attacks, and psychological operations may keep the threat at bay initially, but regardless of the technological advancements, close combat — and the hellish hardship that comes with it — will still be what decides a war’s outcome.
“Somebody’s going to close that last 500m in the dark, smoked, the old-fashioned way,” Rainey said. “We better have rifle squads who can stab people on the objective, and we better have armor units that can set things on fire.”
At futures command, Rainey and his team are marrying the new tech with dirty old close combat in novel ways through the Army’s use of cross-functional teams that focus on areas such as the next generation combat vehicle, long range precision fires and soldier lethality.
“What I like about the [Cross Functional Teams] is that when there’s a problem, we pull the right experts together and they tackle the problem,” he said. “We just have to be adaptive and look at ways to transform to the changing character of war.”
Transformation doesn’t mean only new rifles and high-tech simulations for battlefield training. It also means easing the lives of soldiers and their families, helping them get the resources they need when they need them.
To that end, George has given guidance to the Installation Management Command to improve a smartphone application for garrisons across the service.
The apps would be tailored to the specific installation and would provide basic information such as commissary and gym hours, alerts for gate closures or emergencies and a way for installation commanders to communicate quickly and directly with post personnel and their families.
“I’ve provided guidance to improve what they’ve already put in place,” he said. “The bottom line is, we must provide soldiers and families with timely, reliable information, and we have the technology to do that.”
Making life outside of combat training easier, in George’s thinking, will allow soldiers to focus on those combat tasks, which is how the Army will win wars.
Or, as his top enlisted soldier, Sergeant Major of the Army Michael Weimer, put it in remarks at Fort Moore.
“Warfighting is the reason we exist,” Weimer said. “But you can’t be a good warfighter if you don’t take care of your family, if you don’t take care of your teammates. You can’t be a good warfighter if you can’t manage your time. The list goes on and on and on. So, they’re not inseparable.”
Gen. Gary Brito, over Training and Doctrine Command, will guide the effort to strengthen the profession.
Brito recently told Army Times a key example of that starts with the first days of basic training, where drill sergeants now put recruits in leadership roles.
The old-school form of discipline meant drill sergeants shouting in recruits faces, demeaning them into submission. A new approach is to hold those recruits to stringent standards in their small teams, making them accountable and showing them why discipline matters in personal, tangible ways.
What’s left to be seen is how NCOs across the force will translate the Chief’s message. Soldiers have valid concerns, and likely personal experiences of overbearing leaders who dished out discipline for discipline’s sake, adding further demands to the already demanding lives of rank-and-file soldiers.
In recent presentations, high-ranking officers have told forces that they expect junior NCOs and officers to enforce Army standards. George admitted that the environment has changed since he was a young officer with the addition of social media.
But discipline is key and it’s a major focus for how George sees units and individual soldiers being successful.
“I still know that discipline is required for a unit to be successful in combat,” George said. “We have to make sure we’re instilling that discipline every day.”
Crucial to having leaders and subordinates on the same level is to emphasize that discipline is every soldier’s responsibility, from private to general. But inside of that, commanders must clearly communicate the expectations.
As a Corps commander, George held Facebook Live town halls as well as post-physical training session meetings with staff and other senior leaders. Sometimes simply to ensure that everyone clearly understood his guidance.
“I expect everyone to do this and this is the standard and I expect you to enforce it,” he said.
If everyone is on the same page, George, Brito and others have said in recent months, then soldiers are more likely to understand the role of their battle buddy, their NCOs and officers, thus creating a more cohesive team that can be hardened through training and other aspects of Army life.
Hamilton, over Army Materiel Command, will lead the effort of delivering combat ready formations.
Once he took over AMC earlier this year, Hamilton didn’t mince words about his command’s purpose — precise and predictive sustainment. That means a slimmer and more nimble approach to getting the right gear to those who need it.
Large logistical convoys heading to Forward Operating Bases are nothing but targets now.
And potential cyber attacks on U.S. infrastructure, including homeland military bases, could cut the steady flow of supplies. All that means that commanders at every level will need to know what they have, what they truly need and what they can do without in combat.
Some of those obstacles will be met by technology.
Hamilton told Army Times’ sister publication Defense News earlier this year that one example could be fewer and quieter generators. Battery-run generators provide a near-silent operation, helping mask a force’s signature. Finding better power management to reduce the need for 30 to 40 generators will free up space for ammunition, food and water on shipments to the force.
Readying the force goes beyond equipment, knowing what’s happening on the modern battlefield and funneling that into relevant training is key.
George expects current battlefield lessons, such as those in Ukraine, to be captured, analyzed and then, if validated, fed into training cycles from home station to the schoolhouses to the combat training centers.
One such example is a top-to-bottom look at putting unmanned aerial and ground systems at nearly every echelon and troubleshooting how they’re deployed in a variety of formations.
Those rapidly evolving systems are getting cheaper to produce and easier to use. He wants each formation thinking about how to use that technology at their level, and how to protect themselves from it.
The Fires Center of Excellence in Fort Sill, Oklahoma established a Counter Unmanned Aerial Systems University this past year that seeks to train commanders on best practices for the threat.
Such efforts also feed another focus: Fighting at echelon. In layman’s terms, this means that at the squad level, soldiers better know their roles and master their tasks, and that flows up the chain for platoons, companies, battalions and beyond. If half the squads in a platoon can’t perform, the platoon is ineffective, which has a ripple effect on what company, battalion and brigade commanders can expect from their formations.
In recent years there’s been an ongoing push to shift the Army’s unit of action from the brigade to the division, part of the Great Power Competition shift to readying the force for the possibility of large-scale combat operations. George doesn’t see the future fight as binary — brigade versus division.
“We need to be good at fighting at echelon,” George said. And that means all echelons from squad to corps.
While adding new tech, equipment and even headquarters to coordinate it all has remained a steady effort, those larger formations don’t fight well if the subordinate units don’t perform.
George made a point to say there are situations in the Indo-Pacific theater where an Army battalion or even company may serve as the focus of an effort or a joint force enabler. If soldiers can’t manage the company-level tasks, then that unit is ineffective.
Having led at every level, George has seen the massing of equipment in command centers on the battlefield. It’s a problem the Army’s been seeking to change for at least the past decade.
George had a long career before sitting as acting chief. He started out enlisted before becoming an officer. He served multiple combat tours, ran units at various levels and did his time in the Pentagon.
He’s seen a lot. And while there are always new things in the sight picture, many have a familiar feel.
The four-star said he hears a lot of talk about generational differences with new soldiers, how Generation Z youth expect leaders to explain their reasoning, not something past generations of soldiers may have even been allowed to ask.
As a brand new private, George remembers his platoon sergeant being the kind of soldier who would explain to troops what was going on, why it was important and what they had to do, even if it didn’t always make sense at their level.
“And sometimes doing something that wasn’t important, but we had to do it anyway,” he said. “I appreciated that he was truthful with everyone.”
Even Pvt. George had questions.
“I think I always wanted to know, it’s important to explain why,” he said.
Todd South has written about crime, courts, government and the military for multiple publications since 2004 and was named a 2014 Pulitzer finalist for a co-written project on witness intimidation. Todd is a Marine veteran of the Iraq War.