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New Army chief of staff warns of challenges

By C. Todd Lopez

WASHINGTON (Sept. 07, 2011) -- After assuming responsibility as the Army's new chief of staff, Gen. Ray Odierno discussed challenges ranging from transnational terrorism to "uncertainty of the Arab Spring," to looming resource cuts, and he called for caution to avoid a hollowing of the force.

Before an auditorium full of members of Congress, current and former leaders in the Department of Defense, Soldiers, and family members at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall, Va., Odierno took an oath as the 38th chief of staff of the Army.

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"I pledge I will work with all the Joint Chiefs and our service secretaries and the secretary of Defense, as we face these very difficult challenges," Odierno said. "But I do have a word of caution. We must avoid our historical pattern of drawing down too fast and getting too small. Especially since our record of predicting the future is frankly not a very good one. So as we make difficult resource decisions we must be thoughtful and understanding of the risk we incur to the future security of this great nation."

Odierno said the Army must continue to provide combatant commanders a trained and ready Army to ensure the United States prevails in both Iraq and Afghanistan. In order to do that, he said, the nation must sustain the all-volunteer Army and continue to develop leaders and commitment to the profession of arms.

"Today is like no other in our history," said the new chief of staff. "It is a time of uncertainty and historic change. We face a multitude of security challenges such as transnational and regional terrorism [from] places like Yemen and Somalia, North Africa, and Pakistan's federally-administered tribal areas.

"We have the uncertainty of the Arab Spring," he said about the revolts in North Africa and elsewhere. He warned of the proliferation of nuclear weapons, and the challenges of rising national powers. "All of that is underpinned by our own fiscal challenges," he said.

"The strength of our nation is our Army," Odierno said. "The strength of our Army is our Soldiers. The strength of our Soldiers is our families. This is what makes us 'Army strong."'

Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta praised Odierno, and commented on his ascent to the top military position in the Army.

"He brings a wealth of combat experience, with three long deployments to Iraq that totaled over 50 months," Panetta said. "After leading the 4th Infantry Division in the early years of that war, he later returned, as General' Petraeus' right-hand man."

Panetta said Odierno was the operational architect of the troop surge that "turned the tide" in Iraq. The general was commander of Multi-National Corp-Iraq during those days and later became the overall commander in Iraq, from 2008 to 2010.

"A very crucial time when our military was trying to make sure we lock in the gains that were made with the surge," Panetta said.

After having sworn in his new chief of staff, Secretary of the Army John M. McHugh commented on the "transfer of responsibility" of the Army -- the name of the process is different for the chief of staff than it is for a command position -- saying it is a reflection of American democracy.

"The transfer of authority from one CSA to another [takes place] not with weapons, not with force -- as we have seen in so many places across the planet in recent days -- but with honor and tradition and even reverence," McHugh said.

"It's a credit to our democratic principles and a credit to our nation, and to the military's respect of civilian authority. But most importantly, it's a credit to the selfless men and women of profound character and conviction who take up arms and don uniforms in defense of our nation, our liberties and our freedom."

McHugh, a former congressman from New York, said Odierno brings to his position as the new chief of staff "impeccable credentials as a Soldier, [and] as a leader," and noted that the general had commanded units at every level during a career that has spanned more than 35 years.

"As a testament to his leadership and acumen on the battlefield, General Odierno is only the second officer since Vietnam to command up to division, corps and Army level during the same conflict," McHugh said.

The secretary said it was during Odierno's time in Iraq the two first met. Over a period of 10 years, McHugh said, he's visited Iraq about 14 times.

"As I recall, Ray was there for just about every one of them," McHugh said. "Every time I returned to Washington thereafter, I felt better about our presence in that theater, better about our mission and better about the leadership in that nation, because of Ray Odierno."

Odierno himself thanked many in the audience, including the members of the 1974 graduating class of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point -- his own classmates.

The outgoing chief of staff, Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, who had just passed responsibility for the Army to his counterpart, had these words for the Army's 38th chief of staff and for his wife, Linda.

"I wish I could've gotten a few more things ironed out before you Ray, but you two know more about service and sacrifice than just about anybody we know," he said. "And you're going to be a terrific 38th chief."

Dempsey, after serving just five months as the Army's chief of staff, will move on to assume new duties as the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff following the Sept. 30 retirement of Adm. Michael G. Mullen.

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