Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno Stops by Fort Hood

Odierno gives Army overview during Fort Hood stop
by Colleen Flaherty

FORT HOOD — In a two-day visit on post, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno met with brigade, battalion and select company commanders for a private dialogue on the state of U.S. forces. 

The former III Corps and Fort Hood commander concluded his 36-hour visit to Central Texas, his first since assuming his current position at the Pentagon, with a brief news conference at Club Hood. During the media session, Odierno expressed concern about looming defense cuts, following the inability of Congress to agree on alternative deficit reduction measures. 

"If we go into sequestration, it's going to have a significant impact on our military," said Odierno, including troop cuts that would mean "the smallest Army we've had since 1940."

But regardless of the Army's size, Odierno said III Corps remains "significantly committed" to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. 

The American embassy in Iraq is well poised to help the country continue to progress following the departure of U.S. troops, he said — something "if we're back in Iraq in 2006, nobody would have believed where we are today." 

Despite Tuesday's rash of sectarian violence in Afghanistan, the country — particularly its government — is on track for a similar fate.

Coalition forces should help the Afghan government "put systems in place to ensure that doesn't continue," Odierno said of the attacks. 

As for possible sequestration, or automatic deficit reduction measures that would mean $600 billion in defense budget cuts starting in 2013, Odierno said it would force the nation to adopt a defense strategy "not as robust as what it was in the past." 

Odierno has said previously that the Army is aiming for a force minimum of 520,000 troops, after cutting 50,000 soldiers through attrition and other means. 

The general said returning veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan face significant challenges — including disproportionately high unemployment rates and mental health issues — that the Army is working hard to alleviate. 

Odierno praised Congress for passing the recent veterans jobs bill, which incentivizes hiring veterans — all of whom are vetted for their ability to return to civilian employment before being discharged. "We believe they are more than qualified and more than capable."

Odierno also said the Army — and his vice chief of staff, former 1st Cavalry Division Commander Gen. Peter W. Chiarelli, in particular — are committed to helping soldiers struggling with traumatic brain injuries, post-traumatic stress disorder and other health concerns. 

"There's not a black and white answer to TBI and PTSD," but resources are being poured into both issues each day, he said. 

Odierno commanded III Corps and Fort Hood from 2006 to 2008. He also led Multinational Corps-Iraq during III Corps Headquarters' deployment to Iraq within that period.

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