COLUMBUS, Ohio – The Army is transforming, modernizing, boosting readiness, improving fitness across the force, and investing in potential recruits, the chief of staff of the Army said in wide-ranging remarks here Saturday.
But, first, Army Gen. James McConville heaped praise on a National Guard he said is essential to the Army, overseas and in the homeland.
“We don’t go anywhere or do anything without the National Guard,” McConville told an annual meeting of Guard leaders. “We can’t do what we do as an Army without the National Guard.
“Every time we have asked,” he added, “the National Guard has been ‘Always Ready, Always There’.”
McConville cited the more than 20,000 Guardsmen currently deployed in support of multiple combat commanders worldwide. He listed ongoing homeland defense missions, the Guard’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and its support just in the last 12 months to civil authorities responding to natural disasters – including wildfires, hurricanes, tornadoes and floods.
“Your immediate responses have saved hundreds, maybe thousands, of lives,” McConville said. “You have brought hope to America when it needed it the most.”
The CSA included three adjutants general in his transition team coming into his current assignment because of the importance he attaches to the component.
“What makes you special is not just what you do, but it’s really how you do it, and the great people who have answered the call to serve,” he said.
Take the July 28th Kentucky floods – and the example of Army Staff Sgt. Matthew Dyal.
One of the hundreds of Kentucky National Guardsmen who responded, Dyal lived in the affected area, knew his neighbors, knew who to work with, and knew the roads.
“Because of his relationships and knowledge of the area, he was able to get supplies and support where it was needed in record time,” McConville said.
“These were his people, and this was his home – and you just can’t get a response like that anywhere else but from the National Guard.”
Highlighting the 30-year role of multiple National Guard states, led by California helping Ukraine’s armed forces transform, McConville dwelt on the impact of the 93-nation Department of Defense National Guard State Partnership Program.
“Your State Partnership Program is really making a difference,” he said. “Your security assistance, security cooperation missions around the world are really making a difference.”
The SPP was one of three factors McConville said contributed to the Army’s readiness to respond following Russia’s unprovoked Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine.
“It’s a good thing we started transforming … when we did, because when the crisis hit our allies … we were ready,” he said.
The Army was ready because of its strong permanent presence in Europe.
“We’re able to rapidly deploy highly trained and ready units into theater very, very quickly, and there they remain to reassure our allies and partners, and to deter any further threats,” McConville said.
And the Army was ready because of the SPP.
“We’ve had many years invested with the National Guard state partnerships with many European countries, and especially with Ukraine,” he said. “[state National Guards] have helped them train and reach the level of proficiency that they’re demonstrating on the battlefield every single day.”
America’s National Defense Strategy calls Russia an acute threat and China a pacing challenge, the CSA said. “While we focus on China and Russia, we can’t take our eyes off our other persistent threats – North Korea, Iran, and violent extremists.”
Simultaneously, the COVID-19 pandemic remains a challenge. “And we will deal with more unprecedented natural disasters,” McConville said.
“We’re going to continue to transform our Army, he added. “So they’re ready for the next 40 years, as we move from counterinsurgency, counterterrorism, irregular warfare to large-scale combat operations.”
That transformation will incorporate lessons learned from Ukraine, including the imperative to switch from large, stationary command posts to small, mobile ones. A new Army Field Manual outlining the multi-domain operations doctrine is imminent.
McConville discussed upgraded and new munitions and weapons systems coming into the inventory, a renewed focus on long-range precision fires, and other modernization.
He equated the future challenge of lethal enemy unmanned aerial systems with the challenge that improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, presented in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“We’re aggressively investing in weapons systems and concepts that are going to help us counter unmanned aerial systems,” he said.
“The foundation of our Army will always be our small units – our squads, platoons, and companies,” McConville said.
The CSA calls small units the Army’s foundational readiness.
“You all do that extremely well,” he said.
Example: The National Guard’s 34th “Red Bull” Infantry Division.
In rapid succession, the Red Bulls responded to domestic civil unrest, helped with the pandemic, completed a rotation at the National Training Center, and deployed first to the Middle East, then to Afghanistan.
“They did an incredible job,” McConville said. “That’s… what I see in the National Guard all the time. And that’s why foundational readiness is absolutely key.”
It takes people to make all this happen, and McConville outlined his vision for tackling a challenging recruiting environment in which only 23 percent of Americans can meet the qualifications to join the force.
“We are putting out a call to service,” he said. “We’re putting out a call to inspire young men and women to sign up to serve their country – in all institutions: military, teaching, going to the police forces, going to fire forces, going to all these institutions that make us the greatest country in the world.”
The disruption caused by the pandemic exacerbated a reduction in potential recruits’ ability to meet academic and physical qualifications necessary to serve.
But the CSA isn’t interested in lowering the Army’s entry standards.
“We’re going to raise the young men and women’s standards that want to serve,” he said, one day after he visited a pilot 90-day Future Soldier Preparatory Course at Fort Jackson, South Carolina.
The course is designed to help would-be recruits raise academic and physical standards to meet Army requirements.
“We’re seeing tremendous progress in these young men and women, and it was very emotional for me to talk to these young men and women who truly want to serve,” McConville said. “For the first time, they said someone was investing in them and giving them an opportunity for the future.”
Other initiatives he outlined include reviewing the standard test – known as the ASVAB, or Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery – that all potential recruits are required to take. For example, candidates still are not allowed to use a calculator when testing.
“One of the things we’re trying to do is move from what I would argue is an industrial-age recruiting system to, quite frankly, a 21st century system,” he said.
The CSA also is focused on force-wide fitness. The new Army Combat Fitness Test, or ACFT, is a better test than its predecessor, he said – and it’s only one piece of comprehensive change.
“We’re going to have dieticians. We’re going to have strength coaches,” McConville said. “We’re going to have a much more physically fit Army.
“We want to be an Army of possibilities,” he added. “We want to be an Army where, quite frankly, you can do anything you want – where you can ‘be all you can be’.”