Modernize or Risk Losing: New Army Secretary's Challenge to the Force

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Ryan McCarthy, then-acting Secretary of the Army, visits the 4th Battalion, 3rd Air Defense Artillery Regiment, Sept. 20, 2019, at the Patriot site on Al Dhafra Air Base, United Arab Emirates. (U.S. Air Force photo/Jocelyn A. Ford)
Ryan McCarthy, then-acting Secretary of the Army, visits the 4th Battalion, 3rd Air Defense Artillery Regiment, Sept. 20, 2019, at the Patriot site on Al Dhafra Air Base, United Arab Emirates. (U.S. Air Force photo/Jocelyn A. Ford)

For the first time since July, the Army has a Senate-confirmed civilian leader.

Ryan McCarthy was sworn in as Army secretary at 9:30 a.m. Monday after being confirmed for the job Sept. 26. McCarthy, the service's former undersecretary, had served as acting secretary for two months.

Within an hour of being made official at the Pentagon, he published guidance to the force confirming the Army's aggressive focus on modernization of old technologies and vowing to attack cultural problems that "tear at the fabric of our formations."

The Army's priorities, he wrote, will remain unchanged.

"The Army has increased its tactical readiness drastically, and now we will expand our focus to improve strategic readiness -- our ability to mobilize, deploy, and sustain the force," McCarthy, a former Army Ranger, said in his message. " ... The Army must modernize today or we could lose the next war."

Related: Former Ranger Ryan McCarthy Hopes to Lead Army Through Human Connection

In his role as undersecretary, McCarthy was a highly visible advocate and spokesman for the Army's modernization priorities, which emphasize replacing six aging combat systems with cutting-edge new technology.

He has also stood behind the Army's "night court" effort to divest old programs in order to free up tens of billions to reinvest in new and needed programs. McCarthy said in his message that the Army would continue to "ruthlessly prioritize resources and divest legacy programs" so that the service could rush new technologies to the low-rate initial production phase.

"We will remain focused on delivering the 31 signature systems our cross-functional teams are developing in support of the six modernization priorities and ensure we can employ them the day they show up," he wrote. "To achieve this, we are integrating modernization efforts across doctrine, organizational designs, training models, leader development, personnel systems, facilities, and policies."

He also renewed a call for cloud computing technology, saying the Army cannot maximize its modernization strategy and lean into artificial intelligence possibilities without it.

McCarthy closed his message with an acknowledgment of the service's continued struggle to mitigate cultural problems, including suicide, sexual assault and sexual harassment.

To reverse "negative trends," he said, "we have to change our Army culture to become better teammates. Teammates know each other, mentor each other, and help each other through difficult times."

According to newly released data, the active-duty Army saw 139 suicides in 2018, the highest number of any service, and the second-highest rate, with 24.8 suicides per 100,000 troops.

-- Hope Hodge Seck can be reached at hope.seck@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @HopeSeck.

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