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Army Vice Chief talks personnel cuts, suicide, more at Fort Campbell

Former 101st commander addresses list of hot topics during visit

Aug. 2, 2013 - 07:44AM   |  
Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. John F. Campbell, former 101st Airborne commander, addressed a list of pressing concerns during a visit to the post Thursday.
Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. John F. Campbell, former 101st Airborne commander, addressed a list of pressing concerns during a visit to the post Thursday. (Philip Grey / The Leaf-Chronicle)
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FORT CAMPBELL, KY. — Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. John F. Campbell, former commander of the 101st Airborne Division, addressed a host of pressing concerns for the Army and Fort Campbell during a visit to the post Thursday.

Campbell, the second highest-ranking officer within the Department of the Army, was visiting post on a “Health of the Force” trip to look at the status of “Ready and Resilient,” a program that serves as an umbrella for many others.

Regarding a plethora of Army programs aimed at soldiers and family members, on everything from family and soldier resiliency to suicide, job placement help after service and sexual assault, Campbell said the Army has to take a hard look at what works and what doesn’t to channel resources where they can do the most good.

“What I want,” he said, “is to make sure we get the right programs for the Army, as well as the right programs for Fort Campbell, which may not be as effective elsewhere.”

Speaking specifically on Fort Campbell, Campbell said the post, unlike many other posts in the draw-down of forces in Afghanistan, has to take care of soldiers and families here as well as those in the fight.

To emphasize the point that it still is a fight, Campbell cited a figure of 230 for total U.S. wounded in June, and nearly that many in July, as well as several killed in action.

“You don’t normally hear about that,” he said, “but we can’t forget that.”

Planned vs. unplanned

Campbell, addressing numbers cited this week by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, said the budget crunch as a result of sequester, as the armed services continue to operate based on 2012 numbers through continuing congressional resolutions, may mean that 70,000 and as many as 100,000 more Army troops could be cut from active-duty, reserve and National Guard numbers.

“That’s the planning figure,” he said.

Several more brigades may be in line to be cut if that occurs, Campbell said.

The planned, orderly reduction from an Army force of 570,000 to 490,000, with surviving brigades being increased in strength with additional assets and made more effective, was laid out prior to sequester, Campbell emphasized.

“What Secretary Hagel was talking about,” Campbell explained, “is what happens if we stay on this path of full sequester. The way I read it, there’s no forcing mechanism to make Congress come together. So we’ll probably enter 2014 without a budget, under continuing resolutions.

“We have to plan now for the worst-case scenario.”

Uncertain future

Campbell also addressed the impact of unplanned cuts on the Army’s civilian force, saying civilian furloughs hurt readiness more than what the surface numbers indicate.

So far this fiscal year, the number of furlough days anticipated has gone from 22 to 11 as Army fiscal planners maneuvered to find savings elsewhere. The Army continues to do so, according to Campbell. Thus far, only three furlough days have been enacted, and Campbell said that with $3.8 billion in savings from other areas, the Army is trying to “buy back readiness.”

“A lot of our civilians,” he said, “don’t work 40 hours a week. Many work 50 or more. When we cut them back to 32 hours, we’re not losing eight hours’ productivity, but much more than that. It affects readiness.”

With the possibility of full sequester looming in 2014 and beyond, with an additional nearly 10 percent in cuts over 10 years above the $500 billion in planned cuts, Campbell called the situation “drastic.”

Regarding the civilian force, Campbell said, “We can’t tell them what’s going to happen in 2014.”

Quality over quantity

Asked whether the military has an obligation to continue to provide employment for troops recruited during the height of War On Terror conflicts, Campbell said funding pressures demand that the Army keep the best and that commanders have a mission to identify who stays and goes, though the military has an obligation to take care of those who will have to leave.

“I’m worried about quality, not quantity,” said Campbell. “If people want to stay in, they have to stay motivated and meet standards.

“To go from 570,000 to 490,000 as planned, we’re doing that mostly through natural attrition. But we may come to a point where we have to make some very tough decisions and have soldiers leave involuntarily. We’re doing that with colonels right now with a RIF (reduction in force) board, but a very small number.”

However, Campbell said, the Army acknowledges that it owes soldiers who have problems related to deployments, especially medical issues, to take care of those issues as part of the soldiers’ transition process. He explained the “Soldier For Life” program as being aimed at building people who can handle stress as soldiers and throughout their lives after service.

Campbell acknowledged the problem of suicide in the Army, saying financial pressures causing family problems loom large, and that the Army needs to find and keep the best programs to help soldiers during the transition from service.

No mixed-message

In May of this year, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond T. Odierno stated that sexual assault prevention is the Army’s No. 1 priority. Asked if that could be construed by the public to mean that the Army’s No. 1 priority was no longer to fight and win the nation’s wars, Campbell said flatly, “No.”

“This is so vulgar to us,” he said, “that we have soldiers attacking other soldiers. We view it the same as the ‘insider threat’ our soldiers face in Afghanistan.

“Soldiers attacking other soldiers is so bad that if we don’t make it top priority, we’re not going to fix it.

“Gen. Odierno understands that the nation expects us to fight and win the nation’s wars. That’s why we have an Army. But when he said that sexual assault is our No. 1 priority, it was to get our leaders to understand how important and how bad this is.

“I don’t think our soldiers take this as a mixed message.”

'A higher standard'

Campbell said he doesn’t base any problem in the Army on how bad it is in comparison to other segments of society.

“Is sexual assault as bad (in the Army) as it is in colleges and universities?” he asked. “It doesn’t matter. Are suicides lower in the Army than on the civilian side? It doesn’t matter.

“We hold our soldiers to a higher standard. If we have an issue, we go after it, make sure we do what’s right. It’s in our DNA to go after problems.

“Some problems, like suicide,” he said, “it’s very frustrating, because we continue to go after it hard and we haven’t found a silver bullet to stop that.”

'Red lines'

Asked how closely he tracks suicides, Campbell said, “Every day, every single suicide, all the details we know at that point. I see all of those, whether active, Guard or Reserve.

“We try to learn from that, understand the trends, try to take best practices from different posts.”

Beyond the ongoing effort, helped by researchers from top universities employing developments in science and technology, Campbell said, “In the end, what it gets down to is that our soldiers have to embrace this, and engaged leaders have to understand every single thing about our soldiers — financial problems, where they live, alcohol problems, all of it.

“When the red lines come up, we have to get them help.”

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