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Army tells Congress Iraq on track to transition by year's end

By C. Todd Lopez

WASHINGTON (March 17, 2011) -- It's up to Iraq now to be successful in their own future, said Secretary of the Army John M. McHugh.

"The longer-term key for success, is the success of the Iraqi government," McHugh said, adding that in his personal opinion "we've brought them as far as we reasonably can be expected to bring them. We've given them every opportunity and every basis upon which to succeed and now it's up to them."

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Secretary of the Army John M. McHugh spoke March 16, on Capitol Hill, before the House Appropriations Committee, Defense subcommittee, regarding Army budget and posture. The secretary was accompanied by Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. George W. Casey Jr.

McHugh and Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. George W. Casey Jr. spoke March 16, before the House Appropriations Committee - Defense subcommittee regarding Army budget and posture.

McHugh said the Army is having success in its withdrawal from Iraq, and should meet an end-of-year deadline for American forces to withdraw from country.

In terms of American forces, and retrograde of equipment back to the United States, McHugh said that the drawdown in Iraq is "going about as well as anybody could have hoped."

Now, he said, the Army is down to about 50,000 troops in Iraq, who are providing advice and assistance to Iraqi forces, with about six advise and assist brigades in country.

Additionally, the Army has significantly reduced its footprint in country from what it had been. "We're down to about 73 bases, down from several hundred at our peak and the retrograde of equipment continues and in very good order," McHugh said. "And we are in fact ahead of our schedule to be totally out, as the order now stands at the end of this calendar year."

Both McHugh and Casey agreed that "development of civil society" in Iraq rests largely on the shoulders of agencies other than the U.S. military and American efforts should be led by agencies like the Department of State, for instance.

"The development of civil society really falls under the Department of State's bailiwick," Casey said. "We have redone our core doctrine in 2008 to say Soldiers will do offense, defense and stability operations. Stability operations basically provides a secure environment so these other types of civil-society development can take place. We have to ask ourselves, 'do we really want Soldiers doing civil-society development?' I really think that falls on Department of State and USAID and those kinds of agencies to do that."

Casey's comments had reflected McHugh's, who said "We need that whole-of-government approach, but I feel very confident and comfortable in having visited Iraq 16 times now, that is indeed happening."


Lawmakers asked both McHugh and Casey about Army efforts to reduce the weight of gear carried by Soldiers in theater, sometimes as much as 130 pounds. Members of the committee expressed concern about muscular-skeletal conditions that could arise from carrying that much weight for too long.

"It's a challenge and it is something we work very hard on," McHugh said, saying it is Program Executive Officer Soldier that is working on "lightening the load" for Soldiers and that the organization is working to "take ounces off in any way they can."

Nevertheless, McHugh said, there are some technical limits to reducing weight on Soldiers. In particular, he said, "we are pushing up against the limits of technology" in two areas, including development of lighter ceramics for body armor, and reduced-weight batteries to power Soldiers equipment.

The Army has a "very focused" effort on lightening the load for Soldiers, McHugh told legislators.


Also of concern to lawmakers: overuse and misuse of prescription painkillers by Soldiers.

"It's a serious problem," McHugh said. "We consider it one of the primarily indices we track in terms of stress on the force."

McHugh cited one reason for an increase in prescription drug use since 2001 -- Soldiers are taking wounds now that would have caused loss of life 15 years ago.

"And the pain medications are not just appropriate, but necessary in terms of caring for those Soldiers," he said.

The secretary told lawmakers the Army did a study on pain management that came back with 100 recommendations to ensure there is tight oversight of the prescription-drug program and to "ensure Soldiers are not becoming addicted."

"No one, I think, goes in and purposely becomes addicted to pain medication," McHugh said.

One system the Army is using to help prevent Soldiers from potentially becoming addicts is informed consent, which means making Soldiers aware of the dangers of their prescription ahead of time. Another is a system that mechanically manages a Soldier's drugs. The Electronic Medication Management Assistant, or EMMA system has been piloted at Walter Reed Army Medical Center and creates a drug-delivery system "where you can only get one dose at the proper time," McHugh said.

Once challenge, McHugh said, is that Soldiers can go outside military medicine to seek treatment. "We have very little if any control over that," he said. "Soldiers are American citizens, and they are entitled to privacy."


It's expected the Ground Combat Vehicle will take seven years to deliver to the Army. That is too long, according to some lawmakers. Casey said he had originally hoped for delivery in less time, but that Army staff had said it could not be done.

"Both Secretary Gates and I pushed very hard to get this done in five years," Casey said. "And both of our staffs pushed backed and said seven is as fast as you could possibly do it."

McHugh also told lawmakers that the Government Accountability Office had said seven years might be too ambitious for delivery of the vehicle.

"GAO cautioned that seven years may be too quick," McHugh said. "No matter how we try to field a system, somebody has an opposing view."

The secretary told lawmakers the Army is trying to expedite the process by making things easier for industry to develop the system. For instance, he said the initial request for proposal to develop the system had 990 "tier one" requirements. The GCV program released an RFP in February 2010, but that RFP was ultimately canceled in August 2010, and re-released in November with streamlined requirements.

"I think the Army has come a long way in learning the lessons of the past," McHugh said.


Casey also told lawmakers that the Fiscal Year 2012 budget sustains balance the Army has achieved.

"Today we have made great progress toward the goals we set for ourselves in 2007. And as an Army we are starting to breathe again," Casey said.

That progress includes a permanent end-strength increase that had been directed by President Bush, and a temporary increase of 22,000 authorized by Secretary Gates in 2009.

Dwell time has also increased for Soldiers, he said. "This was a critical component to sustaining the all-volunteer force." In the past, Soldiers went back to the fight with less than a year at home.

"Beginning October 1 this year, Soldiers deploying after that time will deploy with an expectation of two years at home if they are in the active force, and four years at home if they are in the Guard and Reserve." The Army will continue to work toward a goal of three years at home.


Also, Casey said, the Army will complete the largest transformation of the service since World War II.

"We've finished modular conversion on all but a couple of our over 300 brigades," Casey said. And the Army has also balanced the skill set of Soldiers away from Cold War skills, to skills more suitable for today. ""That's about 150-160k Soldiers changing jobs."

Casey also said the Army Force Generation Model, the Army's model to provide Soldiers to combatant commanders is "a more effective and efficient way of building the readiness we need, when we need it."

The general summed up Army successes for lawmakers, by saying "after a decade of very hard work, we have a force that is the right size, that is organized into modular, versatile formations, that is operating in a rotational cycle, and that is beginning to have sufficient time at home to begin training for full range of missions and recover from war."

Secretary McHugh also told legislators that Soldiers in Japan are largely safe from concerns related to that nation's nuclear-reactor crisis. "From the perspective of their physical location, from the Army side -- Camp Zama, Okinawa -- our troops are located a significant distance from the actual reactor site," he said. And added "should things take a significant turn for the worse, we're prepared to react."

He also commented on the departure of General Casey as the chief of staff of the Army, saying "George Casey will leave service with his head held high and with a great many admirers, which I count myself among them."

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