McHugh, who took office Sept. 21, spoke to more than 400 members of the Army staff and secretariat in the Pentagon auditorium at an Army Senior Leaders Forum.
“The most important thing we do is take care of our Soldiers and take care of our families,” he emphasized. There’s a “critical interdependence” between Soldiers and families in relation to readiness, he said, especially with an all-volunteer force.
Quality-of-life programs must be balanced with modernizing the force, he said later, especially after almost nine years of war.
Facing persistent conflict, he said the Army must transform the way it develops its leaders to prepare them for “hybrid threats” and ambiguous situations. He said the Army must train its leaders to be comfortable in dealing with uncertainty by teaching them “how to think” not just “what to think.”
“Technology does not in and of itself lift the fog of war,” McHugh said. He said more decentralized authority is needed, from the institutional level to combat.
One challenge the Army continues to face, he said, is reforming the acquisition process.
“In too many instances, the so-called traditional acquisition process has not been as agile, flexible and efficient as the force it’s charged to support,” McHugh said.
He lauded initiatives such as the Rapid Equipping Force program and Experimental Task Force, saying the Army must continue to efforts to get technology into the hands of Soldiers quicker. “It’s a work in progress,” he said, but there’s more to be done.
“…We have to re-tool our entire existing acquisition processes and develop a more agile acquisition strategy that directly supports the warfighter on the battlefield today, next year and beyond,” McHugh said. “And do it in a way that meets the expectations of our overseers on Capitol Hill.”
The Army needs a more robust and effective partnership with Congress, McHugh said.
He challenged every member of the Army staff to help the Office of the Chief of Legislative Liaison in its mission.
He praised the Congressional Fellowship Program, saying the program is larger now than ever with 26 fellows from the Army on Capitol Hill, and added that the program should continue to grow.
He challenged every general officer in the National Capitol Region to take a “direct, personal role” in fostering a relationship with Congress.
“I encourage each of you to make a concerted effort to specifically partner with a member in office on Capitol Hill,” he said.
He said the from his perspective serving 17 years in the House of Representatives, the other services are doing a better job of explaining their needs to Congress and reporting their achievements. He said improving this relationship with Congress is crucial to success in obtaining needed resources.
McHugh was asked whether the number of civilian employees working for the Army would grow beyond 200,000 in light of President Obama’s initiative to replace contractors with government employees, when appropriate. He said outsourcing would be examined on a case-by-case basis, and where there was not an essential government responsibility to keep a function in-house, who could do the job most efficiently would be weighed.
“I think our first responsibility has to be to the taxpayer dollar,” he said, adding that a “robust interaction” between the public and private sectors will not only stimulate the economy, but provide an Army outreach into communities.