ARLINGTON, Va. - During what has been viewed as a significant and historic trip, Army Command Sgt. Maj. Richard Burch, the command sergeant major of the Army National Guard, recently spent time downrange talking to Guard members.
He was joined by Sgt. Maj. of the Army Raymond Chandler III and Army Reserve Command Sgt. Maj. Michael Schultz, delivering a single message to all Soldiers and providing a united platform for doing so.
Burch said having the three top enlisted members of each of the Army components gave credence to the fact that each of them have to work together for the Army as a whole and that the goals of the Army are put forth to the Soldier, regardless of their component.
"It drives the point home that we're working together to ensure that the Army has its best foot forward," he said, "and we're making sure that policies are formed to best suit the Army as a whole. The interests and what's important to the Soldiers also needs to be addressed, and we're working together on that as well.
"Traveling together and talking with the Soldiers, showing that all three components of the Army are part of the Total Force, sends the message that it is an Army of one."
Burch said one of the more important discussions he had with Soldiers was concern over the budget, the impending drawdown in Iraq and Afghanistan and subsequent force reductions.
"We know there is going to be a direct impact to the active component," Burch said, "but we're not sure what that's going to look like yet. What we do know is that there is going to be a drawdown of about 50,000 Soldiers over the next five years, and that is going to impact the Army National Guard."
"We may gain some of the Soldiers. With a drawdown of 50,000, there could be some capabilities that the Army has to divest and that the reserve components can pick up."
But it might not just be capabilities that the Army National Guard gains according to Burch.
"There might be some quality Soldiers that we are going to seek out to join the Army National Guard too," he said. "The competition for the best and brightest out there in America is going to be intense for those who are interested and for retention, Soldiers are going to have to make sure they are squared away - more so than ever."
Some of the areas that the Army will look at when it comes to decide who to keep include areas that currently measure the strength of a Soldier, including physical fitness, marksmanship, military and civilian education, operational assignments and appearance standards.
"Ultimately, it's going to be up to the Army on who they decide is necessary to continue operations and who to let go," he said. "The demand for the size of force is just not there anymore, so maybe we need to roll back to previous standards or reestablish them."
When it comes to the profession of arms, Burch said it is necessary to understand and embody just what a professional should look like in order to move forward in the Army.
"Grooming and fitness standards are one thing," he said, "but so is education. I talked to the Soldiers about the new structured self-development that the Army has made part of professional military education as a way to bridge the gap between institutional learning and distance or self-guided learning.
"The way ahead is a little ambiguous … but we're waiting to see what the impact will be on the Army and then on the Army National Guard so we can see what we're going to have to do to be part of the solution for the future.
"We have to do this in order for the Army to keep us as an operational framework to meet the needs of the Army and the needs of the nation."
Burch said overall, his message was received very well.
"There were concerns regarding the impacts on the Army National Guard, but for the most part the tightening of the standards was received really well," he said. "A leaner, meaner Army and a professional looking Army, and the Army National Guard being a part of that, the Soldiers seemed all for that."
Burch said the Soldiers in the Army Guard now are not at all averse to change.
"These are the ones who have either stayed in over the last 10 years, or who have joined in the last 10 years," he said. "They don't know any other op tempo and they are accustomed to how we operate now and what it takes to stand alongside the active component and the Army Reserve and perform as one Army."
Looking back on his visit with the troops, Burch said it was a good experience and a chance to gauge the temperature of the force and find out what is important to those who serve and their families.
"I try to set the stage when I talk to Soldiers and let them know that I'm out there just trying to do a little reconnaissance for the Guard Bureau," Burch said. "I try to see what is important to the Soldiers and I try to make them feel relaxed so they can feel like they can say whatever is on their mind."
Burch said he enjoyed traveling with Chandler and Schultz, "talking about virtually the same things like what's the way ahead for the Army, what changes are coming, what does the future look like and what are the Soldiers interested in.
"Because if I'm not working on what's important to Soldiers, then I must be wasting my time working on things that I shouldn't be, because what's important to them is what's important to me."