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Uniting all three components of the Army

I Corps hosts senior leadership summit at Joint Base Lewis-McChord

Retired Gen. Carter Ham offered insights on how to integrate the U.S. Army, National Guard and Army Reserve. Photo credit: Kevin Knodell

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This week, the U.S. Army I Corps hosted a senior leadership summit at Joint Base Lewis-McChord. The main focus was total force integration - increasing cooperation between active duty military, the National Guard and the Army Reserve. The event pulled in generals from up and down the West Coast, Hawaii and Alaska. There was more brass than a New Orleans street parade. The event concluded with a panel discussion Oct. 23.

The summit took place in the shadow of looming personnel cuts, sequestration and changing operational priorities. Getting all three components of the Army on the same page is more important than ever.

Retired Gen. Carter Ham was on-hand to participate in the conference. Ham oversaw U.S. Army Europe during the height of The Surge campaign in Iraq. Later, he was commander of AFRICOM, Pentagon's headquarters that oversees military activities in Africa.

During both commands, working with limited resources, he often had to call on Reserve and National Guard components. Ham's management and integration troops from all three components was regarded as largely successful. As a result, I Corps hoped Ham could offer his insights as military leaders plan for contingencies in the Pacific region.

Also on the panel was Command Sgt. Maj. Ray Devens of the Eighth Army. A combat veteran of Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, and countless other combat missions - he served as the voice of enlisted men for the panel. Ham said this was vital.

"We (generals) often have great ideas that have no basis in reality," Ham joked. He explained that soldiers like Devens keep ideas grounded, and are ultimately the ones who put them into action.

The recurring theme of the conversation was on strengthening relationships, both at home and abroad.

Ham talked about the history of rivalry and distrust that has sometimes plagued the relationship between active duty and National Guard troops. He said that active-duty troops often looked down on their part-time brethren as lesser soldiers. Ham admitted that he used to share those attitudes.

He said his opinion of guardsmen changed drastically while serving in Germany. He recalled his superiors telling him he would host a group of South Carolina National Guardsmen. He said he initially resented the job of babysitting a bunch of weekend warriors.

But the guardsmen surprised Ham with their level of professionalism. In fact, he said they often bested him. "They kicked our asses at everything we did," he said. After that, he said he began to see citizen soldiers in a much different light.

The panelists talked about the need for closer cooperation and coordination. The key point that was emphasized is that the key to both is communication. Units have to be open and honest with each other about what they have and what they need. That way they can better share their resources and knowledge.

Retired officer Mike Fuller posed concerns that in the midst of downsizing, several mission-critical assets have been put in the hands of the National Guard and Reserve. He asked the panelists if that could undermine readiness, particularly if a unit is called to deploy rapidly to a threat.

Brig. Gen. William King from U.S. Army Forces Command at Fort Bragg said the Army needs to be creative and work with what it has. "The Army isn't going to have a one size fits all response for any situation ... that's just not going to happen."

A major topic of discussion was the merits of the National Guard's State Partnership Program, which pairs up Guard units with foreign militaries to build relationships. Maj. Gen. Timothy Kadavy from the National Guard bureau said combatant commanders have praised the results and want to see more. The panelists suggested that active-duty leaders about to deploy to countries where there's a pre-existing State Partnership should seek the National Guard's advice and insight.

But despite the often close working relationship between active and Guard leaders, tensions sometimes persist.

In January of this year, U.S. Army Chief of Staff Ray Odierno caused a stir with remarks he made about the difference between active duty and National Guard troops. Odierno told reporters that "(active duty soldiers are) trained and ready to do things at a higher level because they spend every day focused on that." He went on to say that guardsmen only serve "thirty-nine days a year."

Retired Army Maj. Gen. Gus Hargett, president of the National Guard Association, called Odierno's remarks dismissive, and accused him of belittling the contributions and sacrifices of guardsmen.

Ham said that old rivalries need to be squashed to move forward. "There is one Army. It's not a contest," he said. He cautioned leaders to avoid competing with each other as budgets get tighter. "The Army can't stand that, and the nation can't stand that."

He closed the conference with a proverb he learned during his travels in Africa. "If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together."

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