June 10, 2015 – The Fayetteville Observer, By Drew Brooks
North Carolina is likely to play a big role in helping to decide what the future size and make-up of the U.S. Army will be.
A commission charged with making recommendations that could change the current makeup of the Army – including active-duty, Reserve and National Guard forces – is in North Carolina hosting a public meeting in Fayetteville on Wednesday morning.
The National Commission on the Future of the Army is preparing recommendations on the structure of the Army and possible changes to mission requirements or policies. The panel is at Embassy Suites off Skibo Road this morning, hearing from people in Fayetteville.
About 100 people are at Embassy Suites for the meeting with the National Commission on the Future of the Army, which is preparing recommendations on the structure of the Army and possible changes to mission requirements or policies.
With such a broad charge, it’s no accident the commission is making North Carolina - and more specifically Fort Bragg - one of its first stops on what will be a nationwide tour.
Retired Gen. Carter F. Ham, chairman of the eight-commissioner body, said the North Carolina stop is the first outside of the Washington D.C. Beltway, and important because leaders will get up close looks at all three components on one stop.
“There’s only one Forces Command. There’s only one U.S. Army Reserve Command. There’s only one U.S. Army Special Operations Command,” Ham said. “They’re all here.”
Each of those commands, and particularly U.S. Army Forces Command, have important relationships for all three components, he said.
FORSCOM is the military’s largest command, tasked with preparing forces, active and otherwise, for combatant commanders.
“This is a very, very efficient use of our time,” Ham said. “… There’s such a density here.”
The commission’s vice chairman, former Assistant Secretary of the Army for Manpower and Reserve Affairs Thomas R. Lamont, agreed.
The commissioners said they look forward to hearing from military and state leaders, as well as the public on how the Army components can better work together.
Earlier this week, commissioners met with leaders on Fort Bragg. On Wednesday, they are holding an open meeting at the Embassy Suites on Lake Valley Drive to get public comment. That meeting is 8-10 a.m.
Later that day, commissioners will travel to Raleigh to hear from N.C. Guard and state leaders.
In those meetings, another of the commission’s charges will likely take center stage.
The commission is tasked with examining possible aviation restructuring that includes the possible transfer of AH-64 Apache attack helicopters from the Army National Guard to the Regular Army.
Lt. Col. Matt Devivo, spokesman for the North Carolina National Guard, said state leaders are eager to highlight the Guard’s capabilities and how its forces work together with active-duty troops, including those on Fort Bragg.
“We are great partners,” he said. “There’s value in all three components.”
Devivo said roughly 700 Guardsmen will be deployed this year and that the Guard was a ready and responsive force.
He said state leaders plan to lobby to keep their Apache helicopters.
The state has flown such weapon systems for 30 years, Devivo said, and represent an important pool of institutional knowledge that active units, including aviation units at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, seek out.
Removing the helicopters from the Guard would be “squandering amazing experience and quality units,” Devivo said.
The commission has no preconceived notions about what its recommendations will be, Ham said, although both men said they have their own experiences to draw on.
Ham had little interaction in his early career, but later saw little difference between Reserve, active-duty and Guard forces deployed under his command.
Lamont spent a career in the Illinois National Guard, and related a similar experience, with barriers between the components broken down by more than a decade of war.
The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan operationalized the reserve components, Lamont said. Once fully trained, the units became nearly identical to their Army counterparts.
“They didn’t know the difference between a Guardsman and an active soldier in theater,” Lamont said.
In remarks previously submitted to the commission, the Reserve Officers Association has argued that the reserve components should remain trained and equipped to that level, ready to plug and play.
Their own experiences aside, Ham and Lamont said the commission wants to hear the opinions of soldiers who saw those interactions between components up close.
What issues did active duty soldiers have with their Reserve and Guard counterparts downrange? In what capabilities did those forces excel? What did they lack?
For Reserve and Guard veterans and their families: How frequently can they mobilize without affecting their civilian careers?
How far did they have to travel for training?
Ham and Lamont said they are looking for answers to those questions, and many more, as they gather perspective for their report.
Both men said the commission hoped to fight the perception that the body could be seen as a harbinger of future cuts to any component.
“Are there budget challenges? Yes,” Ham said. “But that’s not why we’re here. We’re not a budget commission.
“People think this is a BRAC initiative,” he said, referring to base realignment and closure. “That’s not at all what we are. We’re not here to question the essential missions of Fort Bragg, North Carolina.”
But the Fayetteville Regional Chamber appears to be leaving little to chance.
The chamber issued an “urgent call to action” to its membership ahead of Wednesday’s meeting.
In an email, chamber chairman George Breece urged leaders to make the time to attend the meeting.
“If you can’t make it, make sure two other people from your office can go,” Breece said in the message sent to Chamber members.
“It’s no secret to any of us that Fort Bragg is incredibly important to our economy and our entire way of life,” he said. “As the Department of the Army continues to look at its force size and the decreases needed in that to achieve its goals, Fort Bragg stands in the cross hairs. The commission is focused on force structure, but Wednesday is your opportunity to help express to the Army just how vital the Fayetteville-Fort Bragg connection is for everything we are as a community.”
Editor’s note: This article was originally published to “The Fayetteville Observer” Wednesday, June 10, and was updated on Thursday, June 11.
The information above is for general awareness only and does not necessarily reflect the views of the Office of Economic Adjustment or the Department of Defense as a whole.