In the face of continual budget cuts and shrinking end strength, Army Gen. Ray Odierno has been a persistent voice in stressing the "indispensable" role of the soldier during his time as chief of staff.
Odierno is leaving his post as the Army's top officer with a barrage of warnings on the risks to the nation of continuing cuts to the regular forces.
"We have deactivated 13 active-duty brigade combat teams and we are in the process of eliminating three active component combat aviation brigades," Odierno told the Senate Appropriations Committee last March.
The result is that "we have fewer soldiers, the majority of whom are in units that are not ready," Odierno said. "They are manning aging equipment at a time when a demand for Army forces is much higher than anticipated."
Odierno will hold his final news conference at the Pentagon on Wednesday, and on Friday he will turn over his post as Army chief of staff to Gen. Mark Milley in a formal change-of-command ceremony at Fort Myer in Virginia.
Milley has already echoed Odierno's warnings in written responses to questions from the Senate Armed Services Committee ahead of his confirmation hearing. "The U.S. Army will continue to shrink," Milley wrote, but "the demand for ground forces will continue to increase."
Odierno's departure will be the first in a series of turnovers in the high command that will change the lineup at the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Marine Commandant Gen. Joseph Dunford has been confirmed by the Senate to replace Army Gen. Martin Dempsey as JCS Chairman, and Air Force Gen. Paul Selva, head of U.S. Transportation Command, has also been confirmed to replace Navy Adm. James "Sandy" Winnefeld as JCS vice chairman.
Navy Adm. John Richardson has been confirmed to replace Adm. Jonathan Greenert as chief of naval operations. Marine Gen. Robert Neller has also been confirmed to replace Dunford as the next Marine commandant.
Dropping End Strength
In a farewell interview with the Army Times on Tuesday, Odierno returned again to the threat from the troop cuts. During his tenure, the Army has cut 80,000 troops to come down to a troop strength of about 490,000.
In addition, the Army was planning to cut another 40,000 troops by the end of Fiscal 2018, and another 30,000 could be lost if Congress and the Obama administration fail to agree on lifting the sequester restrictions of the Budget Control Act by the end of Fiscal 2016.
Odierno told Army Times that the loss of troops translated into a loss of deterrence.
"If we get small enough where some of these [world] leaders don't believe the Army can respond or deter them -- if you can't deter them from believing they can accomplish something -- that increases the threats and danger to the United States."
"And I don't know what that level is, but I think we're getting dangerously close to that level now," he said.
Odierno became Army chief of staff in September 2011, succeeding Dempsey, who held the post for less than six months before being named JCS chairman.
Since then, he has been challenged by a series of issues on personnel and policy in addition to the drawdown of troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, ranging from uniforms to gays in the military and opening up military occupational specialties to women.
After numerous fits and starts, the Army finally settled on a new Operational Camouflage Pattern uniform on Odierno's watch.
"One thing we learned, we did significant testing, is that pattern is very important in protecting ourselves in a variety of environments," Odierno said. "That's why we're going to it. It gives us an advantage in protecting us as we get concealment as we operate in a variety of theaters."
On gays serving openly in the military, and on women serving in previously restricted roles, Odierno has been blunt -- those who don't like it can get out of the Army.
"Societal norms are changing. We have a responsibility as stewards of the institution to enforce the laws of the nation and decisions that have been made," Odieno said at an Association of the U.S. Army forum last year.
"It's our responsibility to enforce it and if we don't like it, frankly, we have to leave the profession because that's our responsibility," Odierno said.
In his four years as chief of staff, there is one area in which Odierno can be said to be an abject failure -- his annual prediction that Army would break the current string of 13 straight losses in the Army-Navy football game.
Shortly after assuming his post in 2011, Odierno (West Point Class of '76) presided at an Army pep rally in the Pentagon's courtyard.
"I like my joint brethren," Odierno said of the Navy, "but tomorrow we will take no prisoners and we will kick Navy's ass." Army lost that one, too.
-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@military.com.