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Warrant officers critical to transformation from wartime to sustainment Army

By C. Todd Lopez

WASHINGTON (June 30, 2015) -- With a shrinking end strength and budget, the Army will need to relearn how to sustain what it has, rather than depending on contractor logistics support or replacements. Warrant officers will be key to that transition, Gen. Dennis L. Via said.

"I recall [that] warrants maintained everything in the division," said Via, commander of Army Materiel Command. "Maybe you had some advisors, but you maintained it all ... and your Soldiers. But we've gone the other way."

Via spoke to an auditorium full of senior Army warrant officers in Alexandria, Virginia. The warrant officers were part of a first-ever "Army Senior Warrant Officer Summit," June 28-29.

Via said as a result of 14 years of war following 9/11, the Army has become accustomed to a large budget, to war materials being delivered when and where they were needed, and to not having want for anything. Additionally, he said, the Army has come to depend heavily on contractor logistics support for things like vehicle maintenance.

But those times are over, he said. Funding has gone down and end strength is going down as well. Soldiers will have to relearn how to sustain the Army and its equipment. And they will have to do so in a time where equipment and gear is far more complicated than it was pre-9/11.

"How do you transition back to this new Apache now and the new Black Hawk [helicopter]" with only Army support and sustainment, Via asked. "How do you strike that balance? That's the transition that is so critically important, that warrant officers are key to making happen. No one else in the Army can do that. I've been doing this for 35 years. No one else can help our Army transition to where we have to go, except warrant officers."

Via said that most commissioned and noncommissioned officers lack the expertise to sustain the Army in the way Soldiers were able to do before 9/11 happened. About 70 percent of Soldiers today, officers and enlisted, were not in the Army before the 2001 terrorist attacks.

"How do you train colonels and lieutenant colonels to run a maintenance meeting - they've never run a maintenance meeting. How do you show them to manage a budget?" he asked.

"I talk to the pre-command course every month - battalion and brigade commanders - most of them have never managed a budget," Via said. "They say 'I want' and it showed up and it was always brand new."

That wartime culture where supplies are plentiful, where repairs happen elsewhere as Soldiers focus on mission rather than sustainment - must be transitioned away from, Via said.

It will be the "most significant challenge we face as an Army," Via said. "With fewer funds and fewer people, we will transition to sustainment of billions of equipment with Soldiers. Warrants have to make that happen."

The general also dispelled a myth that warrant officers need not be "strategic thinkers" in addition to their role as functional experts. Senior warrant officers - like senior enlisted and senior commissioned officers - are all required to be strategic thinkers, he said.

"I don't know how you can be a senior leader in the U.S. Army or any organization without being strategic," he said. "We are in a mobile, complex world. And while there are functional capabilities that you require in any particular area, I expect all of our senior leaders to be strategic thinkers and be able to have a vision of how we look to the future."

Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno directed the Army staff senior warrant officer to produce a unifying "warrant officer cohort" strategy to outline how future warrant officers will be accessed, developed and managed in support of "Force 2025 and Beyond."

The two-day Army Senior Warrant Officer Summit served as a communications forum to enable the Army staff senior warrant officer to outline the Warrant Officer 2025 Strategy and facilitate an informative dialogue amongst senior Army leaders and senior warrant officers from throughout the Army. The forum focused on current and future strategic training and leader development issues for warrant officers.

Leading the summit was Chief Warrant Officer 5 David Williams, who now serves as the Army senior warrant officer. That position is new in the Army, and was created to provide the Army's chief of staff with subject-matter expertise on warrant officer training and development.