Lisa A. Ferdinando
Army News Service
WASHINGTON – Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno held his first virtual town hall, where he fielded questions on a range of topics, including the budget, mental health counseling, and readiness.
As Congress warns of a possible closure of the federal government, Odierno told the forum Tuesday that a complete government shutdown could delay payments to Soldiers and Army Civilians.
"Soldiers will be required to work and will be paid, but it could be delayed depending on Congress' decision," he wrote.
Odierno held the town hall through his Facebook page, and he received more than 200 questions and comments during the hourlong event. He continued to reply to questions after the conclusion of the event.
Odierno was joined in the town hall by Lt. Gen. Bill Grisoli, director of the Army staff; Lt. Gen. Howard Bromberg, Army G-1; Maj. Gen. Al Aycock, director of operations for Installation Management Command; and Brig. Gen. John Cho, deputy commanding general from the Office of the Surgeon General.
If full sequestration is implemented, Odierno said, there is a "good chance" that the end-strength of the active-duty Army – the total number of Soldiers – could drop to as low as 420,000. During the height of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, the active-duty Army had as many as 570,000 Soldiers.
"We have to take a balanced approach, which allows us to ensure that we sustain the right end-strength with the right amount of readiness, (while) still being able to invest in future modernization of the force," he said.
Programs that strengthen Families and Soldiers are critical to the force, Odierno said.
"We consider family programs and family readiness for our Soldiers to be our highest priority," he said.
The Army is reviewing family programs to ensure they are efficient and effective, Odierno said. Local commanders will have the flexibility to adjust programs to meet the specific needs of their installation or unit.
"We remain committed to our Families' and Soldiers' quality of life and are dedicated to building and sustaining resilience of every Soldier and Family Member," he said.
Over the next several years, Odierno said, the Army will begin to reduce its size.
"We must never forget that we must constantly be able to take care of our Soldiers and Families as we do this," he said. "We'll re-invest in our readiness, and we'll continue key programs that allow us to sustain a modernized Army."
He stressed that mental health counseling is critical for those who need it; Soldiers should not be punished or stigmatized for seeking help, he said.
"This is a very difficult issue. We want to have a policy that encourages everyone to come forward to seek assistance. We are going to work this with all those involved," he wrote, in response to a question about what he would do to make sure Soldiers are not scared off from seeking mental health assistance.
Addressing the Army uniform currently being worn in Afghanistan, the OCP, or "Operation Enduring Freedom Camouflage Pattern," Odierno said the Army is studying the viability of that uniform.
"They appear to be the most effective uniforms that protect our Soldiers and are most effective in a variety of scenarios that we've looked at," he said, noting that he expects a decision soon on whether the Army will stick with that uniform.
Answering a question about physical fitness training, Odierno said the Army is doing "significant studies" on what is the right type of physical training for the Army.
"We have learned over the last 12 years of war, that our physical fitness programs did not properly prepare us for the rigors of conflict," he said.
He said the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command is looking into what is the best way to develop a physical readiness training program that builds personal fitness and prepares individuals for extended combat.
"Physical fitness is one of the most important factors for our success," he said.
On Syria, he said: "We cannot tolerate the use of chemical weapons by any nation state or nonstate actors. This has implications that are far-reaching, even beyond Syria.
"It's important we attempt to address this issue with the international community," he continued. "Together we must work to ensure that chemical weapons or any weapons of mass destruction do not fall into the hands of those who might choose to use them to support their cause."
After the event, Odierno said the town hall was very helpful to him and he looks forward to doing it again the future.
"I appreciate all of the tough questions and having such a wide variety of people participate. That's what I want, and that's why I believe town halls are so important," he wrote.