Despite Downsizing, Army Remains Decisive Service in War, Chief Says

In this file photo, Soldiers engage enemy forces during Operation Moshtarak in Badula Qulp, Afghanistan, Feb. 19, 2010. (Photo Credit: Tech. Sgt. Efren Lopez)
In this file photo, Soldiers engage enemy forces during Operation Moshtarak in Badula Qulp, Afghanistan, Feb. 19, 2010. (Photo Credit: Tech. Sgt. Efren Lopez)

Airpower and naval might can shape the battlefield, but troops on the ground will always be the decisive force in war, top uniformed and civilian leaders of the U.S. Army said Monday.

Gen. Mark Milley, the new Army chief of staff, said he meant no disrespect to the Air Force and the Navy but "the final shots are usually delivered on the ground" by the Army.

Army Secretary John McHugh, who was expected to retire next month after more than six years on the job, made similar remarks in arguing for the Army's relevance in an era of "hybrid warfare" at the three-day annual exposition and meeting of the Association of the U.S. Army at the Walter E. Washington Convention center in Washington, D.C.

As he prepares to turn over the post to Eric Fanning, who would become the first openly gay Army Secretary, McHugh said he was concerned about the growing prevalence of "ill-conceived notions on the nature of war" and "growing discussions in this town that question the very need for our Army."

McHugh said it was a constant source of frustration to him that many believe wars can be won by delivering weapons "from 12 miles offshore and from 30,000 feet."

Milley said history provided ample warning against relying too much on "weapons that could be delivered from afar." Americans tend to place their faith in technology and subscribe to the belief that "rather than spend lives, we should use the highest and most advanced technologies we can in order to achieve our goals."

"The problem with that is that history tells us a different story about the ability to prevail" while relying solely on "weapons systems that deliver effects from great distances," he said.

"So ultimately, wars are decided on the ground," Milley said, and "at the end of the day, it's going to be necessary to close with and destroy your enemy."

Both Milley and McHugh said there were no plans in the works to alter the current glide path that would bring the Army down to a force of 450,000 by 2017, even if cost-cutting spending caps were to be lifted by Congress.

Neither McHugh nor Milley discussed the possibility that the force might have to be reduced to 420,000, which was the worst-case scenario often put forward by Milley's predecessor, Gen. Ray Odierno.

"The answer is 'No,'" McHugh said when asked if the Army could avoid going down to 450,000.  "We're on track and going forward to reach 450," referring to the end-strength figure, the secretary said.

That number will be called upon to meet new challenges on readiness for multiple and varied missions, Milley said.

After 14 years of war in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Army became more skilled in counter-insurgency, and "we need to maintain those skills, we have to keep those skills going," Milley said.

"But in addition to those skills, we have to also re-energize the skills of combined arms maneuver" to face more conventional adversaries," Milley said.

--Richard Sisk can be reached at

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