Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Milley's change-of-command ceremony at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall's Summeral Field in Arlington, Va., Aug. 14, 2015.

Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Milley's change-of-command ceremony at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall's Summeral Field in Arlington, Va., Aug. 14, 2015. U.S. Army photo by Eboni L. Everson-Myart

The New US Army Chief Sets His Tone

Here are a few takeaways from Milley's first address since taking command of the nearly half-million strong active duty force.

Last week, General Mark Milley assumed command as the thirty-ninth chief of staff of the United States Army. It was an occasion replete with ceremony—rows of distinguished guests,  a B-52 and a C-17 flyover, a display by the Old Guard, and a traditional “pass and review” by both the outgoing General Odierno and the incoming General Milley — reminders of the peaceful transition of authority that characterizes the U.S. military. Amid the excitement, however, it was also the first chance to note the new Chief of Staff’s priorities and outlook as he approaches the heavy responsibility before him. Among my takeaways from his speech:

Families are the Army’s backbone. Milley understands that military service demands sacrifices of all members of so many military families. He honored the leadership of General Odierno’s wife, Linda, and noted the burden borne by his own wife, Hollyanne, throughout his thirty-five years of service including his multiple deployments to war-zones (she has just completed her thirtieth move driving the Haul to DC). Both of Milley’s own parents served in World War II: his father as a Marine in the Pacific, his mother as a military nurse tending to the war’s wounded.

Warfare is a human endeavor. He speaks bluntly, echoing many of the themes in the recently released Army Operating Concept:

There are many who think wars can be won only from great distances, and from space, and from the air and the sea; unfortunately, those views are very, very wrong.  War is an act of politics where one side tries to impose its political will on the other, and politics is all about people, and people live on the ground. We may wish it were otherwise, but it is not. Wars are ultimately decided on the ground where people live.

The Army can only get so small. Reflecting the steady downsizing for the Army, Milley plants a flag in the ground from the get-go: “We must have forces that have both capacity and capability, both size and skill. They must be manned. They have to be equipped and they better be trained. And they will be well led.”

The U.S. military does not pick its battles. “As America, we have no luxury of a single opponent.  We have to be able to fight guerrillas and terrorists all the way up through nation state militaries.” His is a reminder, in other words, that Army readiness must remain full spectrum readiness.

(Read more: New Army Chief Supports Arming Recruiters)

Fighting is the Army’s main task. Finally, Milley concludes, “Ground combat is—and will remain—the United States Army’s number one priority.” In an age of increasingly complex contingencies, some of which do not require the Army to fight at all, this is a useful priority. Milley is bright and cerebral, “Princeton’s first four-star general.” But at the end of the day, he’s still a warrior.

You can watch the full ceremony here (Milley’s speech begins around 92:00).

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