Charlotte Richter/Staff Writer
Secretary of the U.S. Army Christine Wormuth spoke to Command and General Staff College students and staff about the role of the Army, lessons learned in Ukraine, and the importance of positive command climates March 21 in Eisenhower Auditorium at the Lewis and Clark Center.
Wormuth said foreign policy recently focused on the IndoPacific region, and she said she anticipates that the U.S. Army’s role in the future will also acknowledge priorities in the area. She said the United States maintains relationships in the region through interoperability demonstrated in military exercises such as Pacific Pathways.
“Those relationships increase the potential for increased access and combined action in the event of a crisis, and again that’s very important and powerful,” Wormuth said. “If there were a crisis, or if deterrence failed, the Army would be what I call the linchpin service of the joint force in a conflict.”
Wormuth said maintaining momentum in modernization — the mainstays of which are air and missile defense, long-range precision fires, next-generation vehicles, future vertical lift, soldier lethality and the overall network — is a large part of Army readiness for potential large-scale combat operations. Wormuth said modernization also prioritizes soldier-centric design processes, allowing the Army to field new systems faster.
Wormuth compared the current U.S. approach to Russia versus when she was at the Pentagon in 2014. She said the United States and its allies were surprised by the Russian invasion of Ukraine in 2014 — at that time, the United States was exploring the possibility of missile defense cooperation with Russia. She said there are beneficial differences between how the Obama Administration sought to avoid escalation with Russia and the actions taken today in the Biden Administration. She said many senior officials in 2014 are still key players in the conflict today and they bring knowledge from that experience.
For example, Wormuth said during the current conflict the United States rapidly declassifies and shares intelligence with Ukrainians, North Atlantic Treaty Organization allies and the world; however, in 2014, military officials approached information sharing with reluctance. She said this information-sharing campaign creates transparency against Russia and broad unity in the international community. She said the current conflict leverages the information space and uses international influence to frustrate Russia financially and sever its resources.
Wormuth asked the audience to contribute to a positive command climate. She said a command climate exists regardless of conflict, and soldiers should approach it as a personal responsibility.
She said the Army needs to reduce harmful behaviors with intervention at the early stages of a situation to avoid normalizing issues and mitigating future tragedy. She said with increased rates of suicide and sexual assault, a task force in the Pentagon is working on incentivizing soldiers for a positive command climate as well as a proactive preventive framework.
“I really believe that a healthy environment and command climate is the foundation for everything positive we do in the Army, and it underpins effective operations and unit endurance,” Wormuth said. “We’ve got to be able to measure our performance and our progress against clear standards as we move forward.”
Wormuth’s discussion was followed by a non-attributional 30-minute question-and-answer session, which included themes of military recruitment and retention, suicide, financial literacy and asymmetric capabilities in the relation to China and Taiwan.
Wormuth began her public service career in 1996 in the Policy Office of the Secretary of Defense. Before her position as secretary, she served in various roles under the Obama Administration and later as the director of the International Defense and Security Center at the RAND Corporation. Wormuth also served as a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Her education includes a bachelor of arts degree in political science and fine art from Williams College and a master’s degree in public policy from the University of Maryland.