“Hope Is Not A Method”

The Cold War is over. You are well aware with your knowledge of history that after every war the United States has in effect demobilized. After World War I the armed forces demobilized about 95 percent. After World War II, despite the development of Cold War tensions, about the same. You and the other service chiefs face the same situation now. To your mind, what are the biggest problems before you now, future problems that will dominate your life for the rest of your tenure as Chief of Staff?

First of all, there is this propensity to take the services apart after a war. This has almost always resulted in unreadiness, and we paid the price in blood. That vision animates me, inside the institution, and it gives me strength when I speak outside the institution. It gives me a focus. Outside the institution I’m able to tell people that the defense of the United States of America is a shared responsibility. We in uniform have a role to play, you have a role to play, and so do our elected officials. I think the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the other Chiefs have been successful in articulating that.

Now inside the organization that’s the focus I’ve been able to provide. It really began with General Vuono [Sullivan’s predecessor as Chief of Staff]. We made a basic decision that we would cut forces to maintain readiness and said whatever we keep, we’ll keep trained and ready. Essentially that says to the Army that we’re not going to retain structure simply for the sake of retaining it, that as the budget goes down, structure will come down in a balanced and managed way. That’s always been an issue in the Army. In 1960, when I went to the 2d Division, it was like a training center for individual recruits. I don’t want that to happen again. What I keep, I will keep trained and ready to fight, to do whatever it’s asked to do.

So the question for you is partly the velocity at which the reductions are going to occur.

This is a fragile organization. I have to be careful of the pace. We need to be steady because as an institution the Army is remarkably fragile. Remember, it took us more than a decade to rebuild it after Vietnam.

It’s a large institution. Not only do we have the soldiers who make it up, the National Guard and the Army Reserve, family members, civilians, but we also have the structure and the facilities. The whole being is fragile. Remember, this is a married army today. This is not an army that you can call up and release tomorrow. It’s a different army.

These are sociological and economic problems with which the great majority of your predecessors never had to contend.

Oh, they certainly faced major challenges, but not in recent years, not in the memory of most soldiers now serving. If you are an officer or noncommissioned officer, and you have less than fifteen years of service, you came into the Army at a time when it was on the up ramp. You have these expectations, and then you have a descending resource curve. I have a leadership challenge. Look, the management of this change is enormous, but it pales into insignificance when compared with the leadership challenge.

As we are talking on the plane now, you are flying out to Fort Leavenworth to speak to newly chosen battalion and brigade and division commanders, as you do several times a year—

And their wives. These people are the conduit. I will reach everybody in the Army, so every commander out in the field will have listened to me personally. There are some times when I think just the fact that I show up is significant. I was at Fort Leavenworth [as deputy commandant of the Staff College] when General Vuono was Chief of Staff, and there’d be days when, because of the weather or because of what was going on in Washington, you would say, “How in the hell did that guy make it here?” But that’s what we are doing here in the Army and any of the other services. We are leading people through a very difficult time.

Your staff officers probably bemoan and perhaps envy your knowledge of history. In the 1980s your own personal history and official history and the history of the future began to converge. To what degree does history play a role in the way you contend with the problems you have today?

It is truly a source of strength, and always has been. I grew up with it in Boston. Bunker Hill, Lexington—I can remember going to those places and feeling their power. When I commanded my battalion, I started to see that if I understood where the organization had been and the kinds of activities it had been involved in, and how it had wrestled with problems, combat or whatever, this would inform me and enable me to better inform and rally my soldiers. I became more attracted to history when I went to the 1st Infantry Division at Fort Riley, Kansas, as the operations officer. The 1st Infantry Division, the Big Red One, which I later commanded, has a distinguished history as a division and has some of the oldest and most decorated units in the Army. The alumni are very active, and they helped me learn the power of history. Fort Riley itself is a historic place— a day’s ride north of the Santa Fe Trail and a day’s ride south of the Oregon Trail. Out there history is truly palpable.