New Culture Shift for the US Military? Robert Wilkie Has Ideas
Robert Wilkie was sworn in as Undersecretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness back in November. As a military brat who grew up at Fort Bragg, and currently serves in the Air Force Reserve, he’s got some radical new ideas that just might help the revolving door that is the US Military. But it would be a cultural change that some may not be thrilled about.
It’s almost been a “tradition” that military families have to move frequently. That problem has caused spouses who hold jobs, and children in school to uproot…losing friends and the stability that creates serious problems for families. A study has been launched to see if changes can be made for troop retention, examination of dwell time — how much time troops spend deployed versus training for a deployment — and the military health care system. Wilkie is apparently taking his new job seriously.
The ‘Mattis Test’
“His goals are very clear. As long as your program and policy contributes to the lethality of the force, he’ll support it…The families have a much stronger vote today. If the families aren’t happy, the soldier walks.” Robert Wilkie
And that problem definitely contributes to force lethality, according to Wilkie. He has an idea for leaving families at bases for longer periods of time- bases like Fort Bragg, Camp LeJeune, Naval Station Norfolk, Fort Sill, Hawaii, and Joint Base San Antonio, he says, could host families for longer tours of duty.
While many in the Pentagon are focused on big dollar programs that lead to new ships and planes, Wilkie said the readiness of the military is one of the issues that keeps him up at night. He said new planes are worthless if there are no people to maintain or fly them.
“We are in the people business, not a machine business,” Wilkie said.
He said he would keep close tabs on readiness, but also provide a holistic view for Mattis. That holistic view is needed, he said, because even if the 82nd Airborne Division is ready to deploy at a moment’s notice, it can’t go anywhere if the Air Force doesn’t have enough planes or pilots.
“This role is invaluable in determining the ability of the force to respond to any part of the world,” Wilkie said.
Wilkie is no stranger to the Department of Defense. He served as a special adviser to Condolezza Rice, and her successor, Stephen Hadley. He was Assistant Secretary of Defense for Legislative Affairs and has worked under Robert Gates and Donald Rumsfeld. Defense Secretary Robert Gates awarded him the Defense Distinguished Public Service Medal, which is the highest civilian award in the Defense Department. He has served as adviser to several members of Congress, and at one time was an intelligence analyst in the Naval Reserve.
Until now, the position of Assistant Secretary for Readiness and Personnel has been treated as if it’s unimportant. There hasn’t been a permanent one since 2015. That’s about to change.