The Senate Armed Services Committee quizzed acting Army Secretary Ryan D. McCarthy on military housing problems, force readiness, sexual assault and modernization during his confirmation hearing for Army secretary.

“If confirmed as secretary of the Army, I will continue to champion the Army strategy and vision, with an emphasis on readiness, modernization and reform,” McCarthy told senators. “It is only through the care of our people that these priorities will be achieved.”

Since the fall of 2018, the Army, and the other military services, has had problems with military housing. Most military housing is now provided to Service members through partnerships with the private sector as part of the Residential Communities Initiative.

McCarthy said getting housing right for Service members and their families is a key component of quality of life and retention of soldiers.

But, he said the Army has already made progress in addressing the issue. Former Army secretary Dr. Mark T. Esper, now defense secretary, initiated an inspector general investigation in February, McCarthy said. “We just recently released the results to the entire Congress. There were a series of recommendations, about 90% of which we are definitely going to implement.”

Documents submitted to the Senate by the Army also reveal the Army has, among other actions, increased personnel in housing offices to better perform quality assurance and control of base housing; agreed to increase the frequency of Army-funded resident satisfaction surveys to twice a year; and provided commanders with defined roles and responsibilities related to ensuring quality of life in base housing.

The Army also plans to incorporate resident feedback into a tenant “bill of rights” and then incorporate that bill or rights into a universal lease. McCarthy said the Army is also investigating quality housing for single Service members who live in barracks.

A ready force

“Readiness is a constant state of vigilance. You can’t ever take your foot off the gas,” McCarthy told lawmakers. “Every day, we have to get as many repetitions as we can -- physically, individual training, collective training. One of the greatest deterrents we have in the military is having as many formations at the highest levels of readiness capable to meet national objectives.”

McCarthy credited former Army chief of staff, Gen. Mark A. Milley, with setting the Army on the path for the readiness it will need for the next war, which he said includes adjusting training at home station to deal with near-peer threats (and) scenarios we’d see against near-peer competitors.

A modern force

The Army stood up Army Futures Command in August 2017, but before that, had established cross-functional teams to focus on its six modernization efforts. Those priorities include long-range precision fires, a next-generation combat vehicle, future vertical lift platforms, a mobile and expeditionary Army network, air and missile defense capabilities and Soldier lethality.

“We believe we have the organizational construct right,” McCarthy said. “We stood up the cross-functional teams in the fall of 2017. And we had prototypes delivered in 18 months that we were testing. I fired the next-gen squad weapon at Fort Bragg last July. We are testing Spike (Non Line of Sight), we’ve tested the extended range cannon ... the prototypes are delivering, and we are starting to yield results. Reducing the span time is everything. We’ll go (from) five to seven years, (down to) to 18 months.”

A strong team

Sexual assault has been a concern across all four military services and has been high on the list for lawmakers for several years.

“I am ... committed to the prevention of sexual assault and harassment in our formation, which tears at the very fabric of our institution,” McCarthy said. “Leadership at every level must build a team of teams, protecting our brothers and sisters to our left and right, reinforcing there is no place for suicide and sexual assault and harassment in our Army.”

Chief of Staff of the Army James C. McConville and Sergeant Major of the Army Michael A. Grinston, McCarthy said, are credited for changing the direction for how the Army is training to eliminate sexual assault in the ranks. He also named Lt. Gen. Darryl A. Williams, the superintendent at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., as a good example of what’s possible.

“He brought in outside experts,” he said. “They did scenario-based training in front of rooms full of people. We are getting away from the compliance on an iPad or Power Point, and making it much more interactive. Clearly, the methods we’ve been using have not been working.”