After a personal look at Soldiers who make up today's Army, the service's new secretary delved deeper into what the force needs to compete against near-peer threats.
Less than a week after being sworn in as secretary, Ryan McCarthy, the previous undersecretary, touted recent efforts in the service's top priorities -- readiness, modernization and reform -- to open this year's Association of the U.S. Army Annual Meeting and Exposition in Washington, D.C., Oct. 14.
Readiness, he said, has been restored across the Army, with over half of its brigade combat teams now at the highest levels of readiness. But he urged the need to modernize the force, such as developing cloud-based architecture, as Russia and China inject billions into their militaries and other adversaries grow their capabilities.
The Army has also drastically cut its requirements timelines from up to seven years to now just 18 months or less, he said, which has gotten newer equipment out quicker, like the Integrated Visual Augmentation System currently being tested by Soldiers.
"Our adversaries are investing in tomorrow today, unconstrained by a continuing resolution and singularly focused on shifting the current balance of power," he said.
Before McCarthy took the podium, seven Soldiers who represented a microcosm of the Army ranks appeared on stage and introduced themselves to the audience.
In his full combat kit and a 1st Cavalry Division patch on his sleeve, Capt. Travis Roland said he joined the Army after being inspired by the service of other Soldiers.
"Like them, I had a strong desire to defend our country and preserve the freedoms that we continue to enjoy today," he said. "I'm honored to serve in the infantry and be the heart of the fight wherever, whenever."
With 17 years of service, Sgt. 1st Class Chelsea Porterfield said she recently served in the most rewarding assignment of her long career -- as a drill sergeant at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.
"Nobody likes a drill sergeant," she said, donning her campaign hat, an intimidating sight for any new recruit. "But it's my responsibility to mold Soldiers and give them the tools and training that they need to fight and win."
Sgt. Maj. Christal Rheams said she started off her Army career as a logistics management specialist. Now a vocalist for the U.S. Army Band "Pershing's Own," she has been able to perform around the world and even competed this year on the TV show "America's Got Talent."
As with many other Soldiers, she said the Army also allowed her to attain skills that would not have been possible as a civilian.
"Each one of us represents the many jobs that are available in the Army," she said. "Whether it's a culinary artist, engineer, cyber analyst, journalist or even a member of the 1st Armored Division, each one of us are always, first and foremost, American Soldiers."
Then, in front of the crowd, Army senior leaders administered the Oath of Enlistment to a group of new recruits, signifying the next batch of Soldiers to serve the Army.
Following the ceremony, Gen. James McConville, chief of staff of the Army, told media that people -- Soldiers, family members and Army civilians -- make the other priorities happen.
"People are our No. 1 priority," he said. "How we get to readiness, how we get to modernization, how we get to reform -- it's people that are going to do that."
To better manage the talent within its ranks, the general added the Army is developing a 21st century talent management system that will move the service from the industrial age into the information age.
The system will help assign jobs that match Army requirements to Soldier knowledge, skills and behaviors. It will even log a Soldier's preferences, such as if he or she has a desire to stay in one location longer.
To prepare current and future Soldiers for the next fight, McCarthy noted the Army recently shifted another $10 billion in its next five-year budget plan to fund modernization efforts.
The move came after senior leaders realigned $30 billion in what they called a "night court" review process that reallocated funds from programs that did not meet the Army's six modernization priorities: long-range precision fires, future vertical lift, next-generation combat vehicle, network, air and missile defense, and Soldier lethality.
McCarthy stressed that if Congress cannot pass the next budget, the Army could potentially lose up to $7 billion worth of buying power while under a continuing resolution.
"From a readiness standpoint, commanders can't buy parts [so] they reduce training events. The whole machine starts to slow down," he said. "We have to get a budget deal. It's on the table. We need to work hard with Congress to get this done."
If not, cloud-based technology, which is being eyed to help the Army carry out its new concept of Multi-Domain Operations, is one of the efforts that could suffer.
The Army plans to invest $700 million in Cloud systems over the next five years, McCarthy said. Those systems could address a challenge foreseen in future warfare of how units can handle big data and network security in order to make quick decisions on a contested battlefield.
"Seamless access to data in the Cloud is the foundation for the entire Army modernization effort," he said. "If we do not have a system in place, access to the data becomes our no man's land."
While lawmakers decide on upcoming budgets, McCarthy said the Army still plans to stay on course with its priorities and finish what it started as it heads into an era of great power competition.
"The world is complex and dangerous," he said. "In times of peril, the nation looks to the U.S. Army and expects us to win. And win we shall."