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Undersecretary hosts closed-door debates over HQ cuts, strategy

Aug. 25, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
Army Undersecretary Brad Carson, during a visit to Afghanistan in April. At the Pentagon, Carson hosts regular meetings with Army brass to war-game strategic decisions with far-reaching effects to the service.
Army Undersecretary Brad Carson, during a visit to Afghanistan in April. At the Pentagon, Carson hosts regular meetings with Army brass to war-game strategic decisions with far-reaching effects to the service. (Army)
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To map deep cuts throughout Army headquarters, or decide any other thorny issue facing the service, the Army’s top leadership has launched a new weekly power huddle at the Pentagon.

Spearheaded by Army Undersecretary Brad Carson, a former Oklahoma congressman and Army general counsel who took office in March, the forum is called the Army Management Action Group, or AMAG. Carson, in an Aug. 5 interview with Army Times, described how strategic budget decisions are being made, and how they could fundamentally reshape the force.

Carson and former Vice Chief of Staff Gen. John Campbell have run the AMAG to help guide senior leader decisions. The No. 2 general and his civilian counterpart field advice from Army Secretary John McHugh and Army Chief of Staff Raymond Odierno, and present information back to them for their final decisions, making it a two-way street.

Gen. Daniel Allyn has taken over as vice chief as Campbell transitions to command in Afghanistan. The AMAG is expected to continue with Allyn beside Carson.

“The future ones will be about all of the issues you can imagine ... from controlling compensation, cyber and the Army strategic planning process,” Carson said of the forums. “There are probably 20 or 30 different budget issues and programming issues that are important in the Army. People say, ‘We need the senior leaders to give us guidance. Do we prioritize this [science and technology] investment, or do we put it into another [Combat Training Center] rotation,’ those kinds of things.”

The meetings are taking place as the Army comes to grips with stark budget cuts and congressionally mandated troop reductions. The forums amount to a deep dive into the Army’s priorities after the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, made real as senior leaders reshape the Army’s upper echelons.

“We say, ‘We would love to do lots of things, but we can only do a certain number of things.What is really important to us?’ ” Carson said. “My job is to understand the Army in such a profound way that I can talk to the secretary and the chief and say, ‘Here are some thoughts or some advice,’ and let them make these tough decisions.”

Cutting headquarters

A recent AMAG session was devoted to impending headquarters reductions, and how to implement a phased 25 percent cut for headquarters units. The cuts are slated to appear as an annual 5 percent “salami slice” for the staffs of every two-star headquarters, and above, but they may not necessarily be implemented that way, Carson said.

The next year will be spent gathering input from other senior leaders. It’s possible the Army would look at alternatives to an across-the board-cut. It could eliminate some commands altogether or consolidate others to limit the impact elsewhere.

“We are going to go to our organizations and say there is an alternative to the salami slice,” Carson said. “The salami slice is coming to you. We are willing to work with you to look at your organization and for me globally, to look at all of our organizations and say, ‘There are some big changes we can make, rather than a small 5 percent here and there.’ ”

Carson said the cuts will take place through a discussion of the Army’s post-Iraq and Afghanistan role, and whether these headquarters are suited to it. What mission does the command serve, is it executing it, and is its mix of green-suiters, civilians and contractors appropriate?

“Let’s see if we are doing the right things,” Carson said. “It is not about counteroffers and negotiations. It is about saying we need to understand what the Army is going to do, and have a vision for how the headquarters can play into that. What functions need to be centralized? What can be decentralized? These are all philosophical management debates that we are trying to get our hands around.”

Outside of the headquarters restructuring, Carson echoed other senior Army leaders who have argued against reducing Army end strength below 450,000.

If sequestration were allowed to occur again in 2016, the Army manning level would have to drop to 420,000.

That would prevent the service from meeting the demands the country has placed upon it, in places like Korea, Africa and South America, Carson said.

“I think most people do understand that cutting the Army below 450,000 is a dangerous thing for us,” he said. “We hope that eases some breaking of the political impasse on Capitol Hill.”

Another topic slated for the AMAG is the Regionally Aligned Forces concept, Carson said. The RAF concept, which launched in 2012, aims to provide combatant commanders around the world with trained and ready troops. The troops, who will receive targeted cultural and language training, could be called upon to conduct military-to-military engagements, participate in exercises or train and advise partner nation troops.

While Carson said it was an idea Odierno supports and the Army plans to see through, he said several details remain to be worked out. For example, it’s an open question whether units will be permanently dedicated full-time to a particular geographic combatant command .

As The Army seeks to breed cultural and linguistic expertise in its troops, it must also find a balance with the career impact for a soldier who might stay in a regionally-aligned unit for his or her entire career.

“We do not want it to be a situation where people are tracked into a certain place that may not be the heart of the Army or their promotion chances are limited because they choose this or that,” Carson said.

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