Military adviser touts transition program

The U.S. armed forces are undergoing a cyclical restructuring, the senior enlisted adviser to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff told attendees of The American Legion’s national convention on Aug. 27.

Marine Sgt. Major Bryan Battaglia, 42, briefs Army General Martin Dempsey and Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, on topics such as force utilization and integration, and the health and welfare of the troops. In Houston at the Legion convention, Battaglia spoke about the current reshaping of armed forces, as well as budget cuts and transition assistance.

“It’s no surprise to anyone here,” he said, “that … as we have re-deployed forces from Iraq and presently and methodically downsized forces in Afghanistan, (it’s) going to cause a restructuring and reshaping of our military. This is nothing new. As we have after every major conflict - World War II, Korea, Vietnam – this reshaping comes as a part of the cycle.

“While our armed forces will be leaner tomorrow than today, we are going to remain ready, relevant, trained, equipped and postured to meet any requirement that our president or secretary may direct. This reshaping will impact all of our service branches, even our National Guard. And, while the downsizing takes place there is, in fact, some good news – a ‘build.’ We are going to see an increase in our special operations forces, in our cyber defense community.”

Battaglia also said there would be a geographical shift. “And just because we end operations in Iraq and, soon, Afghanistan, (it) doesn’t mean that terrorists and other adversaries go away. There is going to remain a demand to eliminate threats. So, while you may see reduced footprints in previously populated areas, you will see a little more visibility and focus in others.

“Despite what some would ask us to believe, warfare does fundamentally remain a human endeavor. Technology in its gravitational pull cannot be viewed as a panacea. So, in determining and defeating our enemy, our military must and will remain leader-centric and yet, just technology enabled.”  

After his speech, Battaglia addressed one of the major concerns of The American Legion: the state of the transition assistance the armed forces’ provide their outgoing troops. The Legion has long campaigned for improvements in the scope and quality of each service’s transition assistance program (TAP). 

In that regard, say observers, the Marine Corps has done pioneering work in improving its TAP. “I think one of the front running elements the Corps has and has had is the ‘Marine for Life’ culture,” Battaglia said. “That is now resonating among the other branches of the force, too, as in ‘Soldier for Life’ and ‘Airman for Life’, for example.

“Admittedly, we haven’t done as good a job as we could have with transition programs throughout our service branches. (However), the programs have just recently undergone a complete overhaul. They are now called “Transition GPS” – an ironic term because a GPS gives direction – but stands for Goals, Priorities, Skills.  It’s a Department of Defense led effort (with) the services tailoring and modifying to meet their own specifications (and) takes the servicemembers a little earlier in their careers. It’s now at least a year out instead of what I was used to as a young troop (when) a couple of weeks before the end of one’s enlistment (they) would say, ‘OK, here’s your check.’ That’s not a way to prepare someone for a life-changing moment.”

Battaglia explained that the program is a three-step process.

“It goes into three tracks: preparing the servicemember to join the workforce, preparing the servicemember to open up his or her own business or entrepreneurship and preparing the servicemember to go to college. All three of these are very popular reasons why our servicemembers decide to separate or retire and re-enter their neighborhoods,” he said.

Battaglia said the services are motivated to do this in an equal mixture of patriotism and pragmatism. “We have a mission and an obligation to America’s sons and daughters,” he said, “when they are presented to us by their moms and dads who say, ‘here is my child, go forth and do great things.’ We have an obligation to return them back to society as productive members. We are very, very good at developing them into servicemembers but, with this Transition GPS, we complete the cycle.”

Battaglia also said the military is serious about budget cuts and constraints.

“The bill (for the conflicts) is, in fact, quite large,” he said. “It’s not our first time being here, either. We’re developing ways to tighten our belt and use other innovative means to shave redundant costs. Let me assure you that our military will forge through these fiscal challenges, just as we always have.”