By C. Todd Lopez
WASHINGTON (May 22, 2008) -- "This is very much a captain's war -- a sergeant's war," the director of the Army staff told entrepreneurs from the Chicago area at the Pentagon Wednesday.
The Army hosted members of the Chicago-area chapter of the Entrepreneurs' Organization for a "fly-in visit" in which the community business leaders met with Army leaders to learn about the status of the service, and how the Army is executing the war on terror. They also heard from Lt. Gen. David H. Huntoon Jr., director of the Army staff.
During a lunch in the Pentagon, Huntoon said it is the junior officers and NCOs who make a difference in the war on terror. "There are opportunities for them to make decisions on their own -- life and death decisions. When you have a sense of that -- to make those kinds of decisions and to be supported by your chain of command -- you don't want to leave that kind of atmosphere. It is exciting, it is empowering, and it makes you feel you are doing the right thing."
Huntoon also discussed the Army's recruiting and retention challenges, telling the entrepreneurs the Army has found only 3 in 10 young Americans are suited for Army service. Many are excluded, he said, due to criminal pasts that cannot be waived, or due to health concerns such as asthma or obesity.
He also said the Army is concerned about retaining Soldiers. Saying that multiple deployments have put a strain on Soldiers who would like to start a family as well as those who already have families.
"We recruit Soldiers and retain families and it is family members that vote on whether the service member stays in the profession," the general said.
Dale Boehm, of Brookfield, Wis., was one of the 14 entrepreneurs to attend the fly-in. One of his employees at Caspian Technology Concepts, LLC, is an Army Reserve member who will soon deploy to Iraq for the second time. Boehm said he's concerned about his employee and his family. He's also concerned about how multiple deployments could affect his business.
"What are we doing to make sure we don't have to deploy troops two or three times? I am seeing first-hand what that is doing to a family and my business," Boehm said. "He's a major component of what I do, day-to-day. We're going to have to figure out how to fill that gap while he's gone. And there's also that period of time not knowing what's happening to him."
Jonathan B. Smith, of WhisprWave, a company that manufactures equipment to prevent shoreline erosion, was interested in getting a more complete perspective on the war on terror.
"It's interesting to get the military perspective verses the perspective that's in the newspaper on a daily basis," he said. "It's nice to get some balance."
He also said Huntoon is typical of many chief executive officers he meets in his business, "they are worried about their people, and retention, more than the bottom line," he said.
John Allegretti runs a commercial real estate company, CMZ Properties, LLC. He is also developing cargo pallets made from bio-resin that contain embedded RFID tags. He is currently working to sell those same pallets to the Army. He said his time visiting the Pentagon was fascinating.
"I hope to get a better understanding of why we do what we do and have a better understanding of the connection between military and civilians," he said of his visit. "The information we receive in the general public is somewhat different than what we are hearing today. I'd like to know the meaning behind the why, the when and the where.
He also said he recognizes that the decisions being made by those at the Pentagon are decisions he made, in part.
"This is interesting to know why we are doing what we are doing," he said. "And this is a 'we,' because we elected the people that are telling these people what to do -- so it's a collective decision."
During their visit to the Pentagon, the 14 members of the Chicago-area chapter of the Entrepreneurs' Organization took a tour of the Pentagon, attended a Twilight Tattoo at Fort McNair in Washington, D.C., and visited with Army leaders ranging from a major to a lieutenant general.
While the Army provided the entrepreneurs with an inside perspective of how the Army is completing its mission in Iraq, the Army also asked something of the entrepreneurs.
"As an employer, support that Guardsman or Reservist as much as you can," said Maj. Jeffrey Weinhofer, recently assigned to the Pentagon after a tour as a military advisor in Iraq. "If you have relatives or friends interested in military service, certainly don't discourage them. Please talk about your visit to the Pentagon and the military folks you talked with."