Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Raymond T. Odierno got a first-hand look at the U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence and spoke about the effects of sequestration on the community, during a visit to Fort Rucker, April 1-2.
The chief’s visit included tours of different training facilities, briefings, a flight tour of the installation, meetings with students from the U.S. Army Warrant Officer Career College and flight school, and a town hall meeting that was open to Soldiers, Department of the Army civilians, contractors and family members.
Odierno told town hall attendees that aviation is an important part of the Army’s future, and because of Fort Rucker’s unique role in Army aviation, it too was significant. One of the advantages of Army aviation, Odierno said, is the ability to conduct air-ground operations with “the best rotor wing capability in the world.”
“Nobody has been able to move around the world, move forces or have significant mobility like we do,” he said. “You play a key role in sustaining these asymmetrical advantages that we already have. In my mind, that is what makes Fort Rucker so important.”
During a press conference at the installation, Odierno said one of the reasons for his visit was to discuss budget difficulties and how the base is going to move forward in light of the Army’s new fiscal constraints. He also spoke about the “Soldiers for Life” program, the Pacific threat, how the Army will move into the future without damaging its readiness, and sequestration.
“I am proud of the people [who work at Fort Rucker] who continue to improve the capacity we have here,” Odierno said. “They do it in such a way where they understand the importance of doing it with [fewer] dollars and still get a lot of capability out of it, that is impressive.”
The general added that the Army has to sustain its ability to train aviators in order to create an Army that is regionally engaged and globally responsive.
“If we don’t sustain Fort Rucker, we will lose our readiness for our aviation capabilities,” he said. “If we have to reduce it, we will try to mitigate that as much as we can.”
Maintaining economic strength means reducing debt and investing in things that are important to the country, Odierno said. He told members of the Fort Rucker community that as the Army is asked to reduce its budget, it is his duty and that of others like him to ensure any reductions are done the right way.
“We have to make reductions in a way that does not hinder our [ability] to deliver Army capabilities where they are needed,” Odierno said. “We are given the responsibility to save lives, but when necessary, to take lives. So we have to work through short-term budget problems and we have to develop the Army of the future while still engaged in combat.”
Though the Army’s aviation branch must adjust and change as it looks to the future, how the Army trains its aviators and how it responds to some of the most difficult conditions will “never change,” Odierno said.
“Our aviation school will be here for a very long time; this is something that is important to us,” Odierno said. “It is in a great place to train and allows us a lot of flexibility in our ability to train because of the number of airfields, [as well as] the population and what the population provides us in terms of skills. One thing I can assure you is that in one year, two years, [or] three years from now, we will have the best Army in the world.”
At the town hall meeting, the floor was opened up for questions. Among other things, question topics included the Defense of Marriage Act, the budget beyond 2014, physical fitness uniforms, and slots for special schools.
Odierno finished his visit with an Association of the United States Army breakfast, where he again took questions and spoke about budget cuts.
“My goal has and will always be that those forward-deployed and those getting ready to deploy have what is necessary to ensure that they will be able to do their jobs, that they will have the right training, the best equipment and leaders that will allow them to move forward,” he said. “But, no matter what, we will lead you through this uncertainty.”