By David Vergun and Lora Strum
Army News Service
WASHINGTON, July 22, 2015 – Russia is the only country on Earth that presents a nuclear existential threat to the United States, the commander of U.S. Army Forces Command told members of the Senate Armed Services Committee here yesterday.
Army Gen. Mark A. Milley addressed the committee regarding his nomination to become the next Army chief of staff.
The general said he couldn't divine Russia's intent going forward. But recent Russian actions have “been very, very stressful,” he added.
“They've attacked and invaded Georgia. They've [annexed] Crimea. They've attacked Ukraine. That's very worrisome,” Milley said of Russian actions. “So, I'd put Russia right now, from a military perspective, as our No. 1 threat."
One senator asked the general if he thought the United States should arm the Ukrainians with counter-battery systems, with which it could defend the nation from Russian artillery and rocket strikes.
"I'd be in favor of lethal, defensive equipment" in addition to nonlethal aid that’s already been provided to Ukraine, Milley said.
The general also responded to a question regarding how the United States might strengthen its position in Europe, in light of recent Russian activities.
"We need to increase ground forces" and deploy them on a rotational basis, Milley said, which would reassure allies and deter Russian aggression.
Already, he said, the Army is moving out on that, as well as placing activity sets and prepositioning equipment in Europe.
Besides Russia, he said, there are other countries that "each in their own different way represents security threats to the United States."
Regarding the July 16 shootings in Chattanooga, Tennessee, Milley extended his condolences to the families of the four Marines and a sailor who were killed in the "horrible tragedy."
Citing other recent attacks on military personnel in the United States, including the attacks on Fort Hood, Texas, and the Navy Yard in Washington, D.C., another lawmaker asked if Milley thinks military personnel should be armed so as to be able to defend themselves from such attacks.
Milley said force protection is a key task for commanders at all levels and steps should be taken to defend personnel. He noted that guidance on a variety of active and passive measures has been put out by U.S. Northern Command, but the details are sensitive and he could not go into them during an open hearing.
Without going into the specifics of the guidance, Milley said, there are a number of prudent steps that could be taken to protect service members, who work in public locations, such as at recruiting stations. One possible measure involves installing bullet-proof glass. Another includes working more closely with local law enforcement to anticipate or head off attacks.
But "as far as arming recruiters go[es], I think it's complicated legally," the general said.
A senator said that Congress could resolve any related legal issues and pressed Milley for his own thoughts on arming uniformed personnel, who work in high-profile venues such as at recruiting stations.
"Under certain conditions, both on military installations and recruiting stations, we should seriously consider it, and, in some cases I think it's important," Milley said.
Women in Ranger School
Asked about how women are doing in the Ranger Course, Milley noted that as of July 20, three women were in the second, or "mountain phase," of the three-phase course. The Ranger Course is difficult, he added, whether the soldier is male or female. Less than half of those who enter the Ranger Course, he said, will eventually graduate from it.
Questioned as to why no woman has yet completed the course, Milley said that since combat arms units have traditionally been filled by males, females have had limited opportunities to do patrolling and other types of training that would be especially advantageous to completing the course.
Milley said that in time, as more women go into the combat arms specialties that were previously open only to men, he expects women will gain the experience necessary to successfully complete the course.
The general said the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command continues to evaluate opening up new positions for women in combat arms. He told lawmakers that when those positions are opened to women, the standards are not being lowered.
Allaying doubts about the capacity for women to perform in combat arms, the general pulled on his own experience leading men and women in combat in both Iraq and Afghanistan.
"They've been doing it for 10 years," he said, of female soldiers being involved in combat.
Combating Sexual Assault
Milley told lawmakers that there are indications that the prevalence of sexual harassment and assault has decreased in the Army, while at the same time reporting of those crimes has gone up. This indicates increased trust in the chain of command, he said.
The important thing is to prevent an incident from occurring or intervene up front, and that means changing the culture and educating the force, he continued, referring to bystander intervention.
If an incident does occur, the responsibility is for leaders to protect the alleged victim, the general said. And then, he added, to fully investigate and hold perpetrators accountable.
"The key is using the chain of command, and all of us have to be fully engaged," he said. "An engaged commander makes the difference between success and lack of success."
Milley noted that despite a decline in incidents of sexual assault, there remains a problem of retaliation against victims.
"We have to literally be our brothers' and sisters' keeper," he said.
One lawmaker said he was concerned about the number of highly paid contractors working alongside soldiers. He suggested that those positions should instead be given to those in the reserves and the National Guard.
Milley said he intends to reduce the number of government contractors. He said he also plans on streamlining bureaucracy, where his authorities allow him to do so. He noted that when he was commander of the International Security Assistance Force Joint Command in Afghanistan in 2013 and 2014, there were about one-and-a-half contractors for every soldier serving there.
A senator asked the general's opinion on the Army's Aviation Restructure Initiative. The ARI is a cost-cutting plan that, in part, moves AH-64 Apache helicopters from Army National Guard units to active-duty Army units. In return, Guard units will get Black Hawk helicopters from the active Army, which are deemed more appropriate for National Guard state-support missions.
The general said that ARI would result in significant savings to the service. He said Government Accountability Office documents show that ARI, once fully executed, would save $1.09 billion a year.
Despite steps that the Army has taken to cut costs, such as ARI, he said the prolonged implications of sequestration and the recent 40,000-member force reductions have had a severe impact on readiness.
Regarding acquisition, Milley said he intends to hold himself and his office "responsible and accountable" for more prudent spending habits.
"We need to link requirements to resources and acquisition," he said