Hagel Meets Fort Rucker Army Aviators
Hagel Meets Fort Rucker Army
Aviators, Thanks Troops for Service
By Cheryl Pellerin, DoD News,
Defense Media Activity.
Fort Rucker, Alabama – (DOD News) – July 11, 2014 – On the last stop of his two-day trip to military bases in U.S. Southeast, Defense
Secretary Chuck Hagel stopped yesterday here at the home of Army aviation,
hopping onto the grass of Howze Field from the backward-sliding door of a UH-60M
Black Hawk helicopter.
That morning, Hagel had visited for the first time Eglin Air
Force Base on the Florida panhandle, home to the Air Force’s first full squadron
of F-35A Lightning II joint strike fighter aircraft, to meet with F-35 pilots
and maintainers and base leadership, and host an all-hands event with Eglin
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel addresses soldiers at Fort
Rucker, Ala., July 10, 2014.
The secretary’s first stop the previous day had been Naval
Submarine Base Kings Bay, Georgia, the East Coast homeport for six Ohio-class
fleet ballistic-missile and two guided-missile submarines. There, he met with 14
female submarine officers, toured the fleet ballistic-missile submarine USS
Tennessee and the base’s Trident Refit Facility before speaking with Navy,
Marine Corps and Coast Guard troops.
Hagel made the trip to ensure the department stays focused on
long-term concerns affecting American interests and allies in Asia, Europe and
around the world.
Defense officials characterized his visit to Fort Rucker and
the U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence as an effort to highlight the Army
Aviation Restructure Initiative, a key component of the fiscal year 2015 budget
The initiative allows the Army to meet drawdown targets but
retain the fleet’s most capable platforms and was developed as an alternative to
across-the-board cuts to Army aviation programs.
In written testimony June 18 before the Senate Appropriations
Committee’s defense subcommittee, Hagel said the Army would streamline its
helicopter force from seven to four airframes. Aging Kiowa helicopters and older
training helicopters will be retired and replaced with more advanced Apache
helicopters that will move from the National Guard to the active force, the
The Guard will receive Black Hawk helicopters that are
critical for war fighting and more adaptable for such Guard missions as disaster
relief and emergency response, Hagel told the senators. In the past decade of
war, Apache helicopters have been in high demand, he added. “We need to put the
Apaches where they will be ready to deploy fast and frequently when they’re
needed,” the secretary said. “This decision will help the Guard’s helicopter
force … adhere to state and federal requirements for homeland defense, disaster
relief and support to civil authorities while still serving as an important
operational and strategic complement to our active-duty military.”
Hagel said the Guard’s helicopter fleet would decline by 8
percent and the active Army’s by 25 percent, but “the overall fleet will be
significantly modernized under the president’s budget plan.”
The Army’s four remaining airframes will be the Apache attack
helicopter, the Black Hawk, the Chinook, and the Lakota light utility helicopter,
used mainly for training here and for use within the National Guard.
The Lakota helicopter is a dual engine, glass cockpit similar
to modernized Army aircraft like the Chinook, Black Hawk and Apache helicopters.
Commercial off-the-shelf aircraft is maintained according to Federal Aviation
Administration requirements, and the Lakota needs only a few modifications to
serve as the Army’s training helicopter, the defense officials said.
Active aviation brigades will be reduced and reconfigured
from 13 to 10, officials said. The Reserve component will retain 12 aviation
brigades but they will be restructured and optimized for homeland security and
combat assault, lift and medical evacuation missions.
While here yesterday, Hagel had a roundtable discussion and
lunch with Army aviators and then inspected and received briefing on several
Army helicopters displayed in Howze Field.
Later, at the Army Aviation Museum, Hagel addressed nearly
200 Fort Rucker troops, offering remarks, thanking them and their families for
years of dedication and sacrifice, and taking a few questions from the audience.
But first the secretary wanted to express a long-time
personal appreciation that was apparent in his voice, understandable to any
former infantryman, of combat helicopter pilots everywhere.
“What you do here is essential,” Hagel said to the troops of
the U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence and Fort Rucker. “I saw it firsthand
when I was in Vietnam in 1968, and I saw some of the photos on the wall of what
we used to refer to as Eagle Flights.”
In that war, helicopters took infantrymen like Hagel into
remote jungle areas that were hard to reach by other means.
“The helicopter would hover 4 feet to 6 feet off the ground,
and we would jump out of the helicopters,” the secretary recalled, “and then
five or six days later, we’d find our way out of wherever we were.”
Very early in life, Hagel added, he established a significant
appreciation for the work performed at Fort Rucker. “I saw amazing courage and
commitment from all of you and those who went before you,” he said, “and that
was, in your opinion, not anything special. It was just who you were, what you
did, and that was just expected.”
The secretary added, “I think often that's taken for granted,
but I want you to know with this secretary of defense it's not, and I know our
leaders in all our services feel the same way. I know President [Barack] Obama
feels the same way.”
When Hagel invited questions from the soldiers, topics
included the severe budget cuts known as sequestration, and what the department
will do about the lack of military personnel available when the next conflict
“If sequestration continues -- and it is the law of the land
and it will come back in 2016 unless the Congress changes it -- then it will
affect everything we do and every decision we make,” Hagel said.
Sequestration, part of the 2010 Budget Control Act, will make
it necessary for the Defense Department to go back to taking another $50
billion-a-year cut from the base budget in addition to a 10-year, $490 billion
cut that two years ago began to come out one year at a time for 10 years, he
“Last year, we took about a $37 billion cut,” Hagel explained.
“We had to furlough people. There was a government shutdown for 16 days that
further complicated everything, hurt your training [and] hurt your operations.
You were not able to fly, nor was anyone else in training.”
Army and Navy were unable to train, the secretary added, and
the shutdown affected defense maintenance, operations, all training and directly
“So sequestration will come back in 2016 unless Congress
changes it, and we have been making the case in our budget presentations in all
the committees that they're going to have to do something about this, because it
will affect everybody,” Hagel said. “We can [reduce the budget] now in a gradual
way, but if we're forced into sequestration again, where we've got no other
recourse, then it will get a lot tougher than it is.”
In response to the question about a lack of military
personnel for a future conflict, Hagel said that in future years the military
services will have a fully capable force in every service and the necessary
capacity in numbers of service members.
“Historically -- you all know this -- when this country comes
out of war. … there's always a resetting, a reposturing. There is always an
examination of how you handle not just current threats and realities you're
dealing with in the world, but the future,” Hagel said.
The secretary said he’s even heard people say that the U.S.
Army may, through sequestration cuts, get to the lowest point in terms of
capacity that it has reached since just before World War II. “I don't know if
that's true, but we're still going to have a big Army and Marine Corps, Navy and
Air Force components. But let’s just take that comparison,” he said, looking
around the audience.
“Does anybody seriously believe that you can equate a soldier
in the United States Army in 1940 to a soldier in this  Army in terms of
capability, capacity, technology, weaponry, training, leadership or motivation?Come
on” he said. He looked at them briefly in theatrical disbelief before warming to
“I don't buy into a quantifiable, capacity-to-capacity,
number-to-number comparison. Our ships, our platforms, our helicopters -- it’s a
whole different world, the capability we have. We can do more things than ever
before with actually fewer numbers of people,” Hagel said.
But the secretary said he understood the soldier’s point.
“You can't ever allow a force to get too low, … and we don't intend to do that,”
he said. “When you look at the big numbers, we're talking about 480,000,
depending on how bad sequestration gets. If the Congress doesn't change
sequestration, then we're going to be faced with more reductions -- we won't
have any choice. … So I get exactly your question, and I too am concerned,”
Hagel said. “But we won't allow those numbers to go down to anywhere near any
even questionable number. … We’ll have the capacity.”
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Special Report: Travels With Hagel