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McHugh: America needs its Army

By C. Todd Lopez

WASHINGTON (Oct. 12, 2015) -- During his 7th and final opening address during this year's Association of the United States Army, or AUSA, Annual Meeting and Exposition, Army Secretary John M. McHugh hammered home the importance of ground forces in winning wars, and maintaining American security and dominance.

McHugh, who said earlier this year he will leave his position no later than Nov. 1, has served as secretary of the Army since 2009. He is the second-longest serving Army secretary.

During his keynote speech at the AUSA opening ceremony, Oct. 12, McHugh dismissed discussion from inside the beltway and Pentagon suggesting that the Army could be minimized while still leaving the United States as protected as it is now.

With declining budgets, and an Army now targeted for reduction following the drawdowns from Iraq and Afghanistan, McHugh addressed two visions of the future for the Army. One, he said, is an Army America needs, and one Soldiers deserve. "A future of power, of readiness, where America's enemies, both known and unforeseen, respect our capabilities, and are either deterred by our strength or destroyed by our lethality."

Another future, he said, is more dangerous. It's one based on "ill-conceived notions of the nature of war. One based on ... a growing discussion in this town that questions the very need for an Army at all."

He said that idea is based on a "grossly naive view of the geo-political environment. A perspective rooted in unsupported optimism, which would shape our force and our military for a world as we wish it were, rather than the perilous reality we truly face at this moment. In this future, we would budget, size and train for a fight that may never come, ignoring the threats that have come and that we are facing each and every day."

McHugh said what he fears most are the things the Army cannot see coming next, and if the Army will be strong enough and agile enough to meet those challenges, "or will a dark and dangerous future emerge, where the Army is built for a fantasy world that does not exist?"

AMERICA WILL ALWAYS NEED GROUND FORCES

While McHugh believes in the importance of the joint force, saying that land, air and sea forces all have their place in defense of the United States, he pointed out that it is on the ground where conflict must ultimately be resolved.

"It would be terrific if we could fight and win only from 30,000 feet or 12 miles off shore," McHugh said. "But that's not how the world works. That's not how war works. People don't live in the air or in the sea. At its core, war is a human endeavor. And humans occupy land. And conflict can only be fully resolved when some force stabilizes the human domain, when somebody controls the land. This is a reality that is as true today as it was generations before."

The secretary said that the Army is the only service that can seize and secure large swaths of land for expanded periods of time, to achieve effects.

"When you are on the ground, you make the rules," McHugh said. "And until nations exist solely in the water or in the sky, land will remain critical ... to protect the freedom and interests of the United States, the Army must remain the cornerstone of our nation's defense -- there is no other way."