FORT RILEY, Kan. (WIBW) -- The highest ranking official in the United States Army visited the home of the "Big Red One" Friday. He's tracking the progress of soldiers' training as they prepare to deploy to Afghanistan in the spring.
General Raymond Odierno, the 38th Chief of Staff of the United States Army, held a press conference at Fort Riley's Conference Center Friday afternoon. He was there to evaluate a major two-week training exercise called "Unified Endeavor," which wrapped up on the installation Friday.
Unified Endeavor was a command post exercise that prepared the 1st Infantry Division's headquarters to lead a regional command in Afghanistan. The exercise included more than 2,000 military and civilian personnel from all services and from five different nations, signifying the joint, multi-national nature of the mission in Afghanistan. Units in Germany, Fort Knox, Kentucky and Suffolk, Virginia (another 2,100 soldiers) were also linked into the exercise.
"It’s an intense command post exercise that walks them through the mission they will conduct while they’re in Afghanistan. It’s the largest command post exercise they’ve had at Fort Riley since the division has come back (from Germany) in 2006… The Big Red One, as you know, has fought in almost every major US conflict since 1970 and they’ve never failed the American people and it’s clear to me from what I’ve seen this week that they’ll continue to do an incredible job as they prepare to deploy to Afghanistan... It really links them directly to what’s going on in Afghanistan right now. We have people from the Afghan army involved, we have our NATO partners involved so it’s an incredibly realistic situation right down to the way their tactical operations center is- it’s the same way it’ll be set up as they go to Afghanistan... I’m actually here to do the out brief. We’re getting ready to do the out brief of the exercise so I’ll get an understanding of the things we have to work on, how the exercise went and we’ll go from there," the General told reporters.
During the press conference, Odierno also addressed the Army’s plans to cut 80,000 soldiers and at least eight brigade combat teams and revealed how the drawdown will work.
"We have an 80,000 man reduction that really starts this year in 2012 and will go through the end of 2017 so it’s a six year plan we have to reduce the force. I would just start out by saying the reason that’s necessary is three things- one is we’re able to reduce the size of the Army while taking care of our soldiers and their families so we do it the right way. We hopefully do it mostly through attrition. Their might be some programs where we have to force some people out but we try to limit that. We also want to keep the right size force to continue our mission in Afghanistan over the next couple of years. And finally, we wanted to spread it out over six years to mitigate the risk of unknown contingencies that could happen in the next three or four years so we’re doing that very slowly. Specifically to Fort Riley, we have made no decisions beyond the first two brigades that will come out which are coming out of Europe. One will come out in 2013 and one will come out in 2014. We are continuing to conduct analysis…," he explained.
"In some way, every installation will probably be affected by this cut of 80,000 but I would follow that up by saying that you can see the investment we have made at Fort Riley. Fort Riley is considered one of our enduring installations It’s one of our installations where we feel that we have an incredible capacity to train, a large capacity to take care of our soldiers and that will certainly be a large consideration as we go through this process. This is a place obviously that will continue to have a large contingency of army forces for a very long time to come," he added.
When asked if the Army had plans to reduce the numbers of installations across the country, General Odierno said that a Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) would need to be approved by Congress in order for that to happen. The Department of Defense has asked for BRAC in 2013 and 2015 but Odierno said Army officials do not know whether or not that's been approved. He said that the government looks at training facilities, recent investments and overcrowding issues when considering which installations to close and consolidate. He added that he'd be surprised if BRAC would have any impact on Fort Riley.