By C. Todd Lopez
WASHINGTON (Nov. 09, 2011) -- Secretary of the Army John M. McHugh told members of the National Guard Nov. 9 that military leadership is concerned about the divide between society and the less-than-1-percent that serve in uniform.
"Not only is this 1 percent a small segment of the population, there are those who understandably worry it is an increasingly isolated part of the population, becoming increasingly apart from America," McHugh said during the 2011 National Guard Joint Senior Leadership Conference.
McHugh said former Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates had noted that the U.S. Army's forces are concentrated in just five states. And while Alabama, with a population of less than 5 million, has 10 Reserve Officer Training Programs, Los Angeles, with more than 12 million, has just four such programs. Chicago, with a population of 9 million, has only three.
"Gates went on to say there is a risk over time of developing a cadre of military leaders that politically, culturally, and geographically have less in common with the majority of the people they are sworn to defend," McHugh said.
The secretary said the National Guard is an answer to that concern.
"That's where you come in," McHugh said. "I certainly don't need to tell you the men and women of the National Guard and the Air National Guard are in every zip code in America. That means you are in every city, you're in every town, village and hamlet. And unlike our major military installations, you're in every congressional district all across this great land."
Whether Guardsmen are on or off the job, McHugh said, "you, the members of the Guard, are the military's connection to every segment of American society. You show all this great nation the goodness of duty, and honor and country."
Despite concerns about the military losing a connection to the larger society, the secretary said polls indicate that Americans rank the military as one of the most trusted agencies of federal government.
"There's no question in my mind that Americans are deeply grateful for what you do," McHugh told the audience -- mostly Army and Air National Guard personnel.
A top concern for military leaders are looming budget cuts, which McHugh addressed with the leadership forum. The military, McHugh said, has enjoyed seemingly endless resources. But now, after 10 years of war, and in the midst of a global financial crisis, he said, the DOD is under "tremendous pressure" to cut costs.
"As you know, some of that will inevitably rest at our door step -- and I would argue, frankly, it should," he said.
The debates over military cuts are not new, the secretary said. They've come after all the major wars the United States has been involved in, including World War I, World War II, Korea, Vietnam and Desert Storm. And after those conflicts, he said, troop strength has been cut, research and development has been cut, and acquisition programs have been cut.
"And in every instance, we were wrong," McHugh said.
Today, that argument is back -- an argument for both strength reduction and for technology over boots on the ground. He said some see the future as more like "Transformers" and less like "Saving Private Ryan." But McHugh said cuts don't have to come at the expense of one service over the other.
"We have to do this as we have fought for the last 10 years, as a team, brothers in arms, one team one fight," McHugh said.
Despite suggestions that the military has outlived its usefulness, or that future military actions will not need ground forces, McHugh said that peace is "fleeting," and that the military must serve to both deter and take action at all times.
"A hollow force invites aggression," McHugh said. "As we continue to wrestle with our budgetary reality, our military and our nation must heed the lessons of history."
McHugh said that had the United States commanded the military respect of Japan and Germany prior to World War II, the U.S. involvement might not have been necessary. But that kind of respect, he said, must be maintained.
"That is our solemn obligation," he said. "To ensure this nation's continued respect, built on the valor and sacrifice and bloodshed of our all-volunteer force."
In the past year, McHugh said, he's seen the Guard fighting terrorists in Panama, Sinai and the Balkans, or "challenging nature on the banks of the Mississippi River," and leading patrols in the Korengal Valley in Afghanistan.
"I haven't seen Guard or Reserve," he said. "I've seen only Soldiers and Airmen. And what I've seen has been extraordinary."
The president, McHugh said, has recognized service members for succeeding in every mission given to them -- including fighting the Taliban, eliminating Saddam Hussein in Iraq, and fighting insurgency. They've also done missions outside traditional combat, including developing power sources, building schools, and negotiating with local leaders in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"Looking toward the future, I will tell you it is critical we keep you engaged, we keep you in uniform, and we keep you bridging that gap between military service and American society," McHugh said. "We will do everything we can to make sure that Guard units have the training, the equipment and the support that you need in ensuring you are ready for any contingency -- whether a theater of war, homeland defense, or disaster response."