GSSR Interview: Under Secretary of the Army Hon. Gabe Camarillo

Image Source: U.S. Army Official Photo

The Georgetown Security Studies Review recently had the privilege of conducting an interview with Hon. Gabe Camarillo, the under secretary of the Army. The broad topics covered reflect the most pressing issues facing the U.S. Army, as well as the under secretary’s recent trip to Eastern Europe. In light of the first anniversary of the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine, the under secretary shared his insight on the progress of NATO combined arms training of Ukrainian forces. On the domestic front, Under Secretary Camarillo addresses the Army’s recruitment issues that have led to serious shortfalls in both the number of interested applicants as well as the number of applicants who meet basic eligibility requirements. These two factors, compounded by the disruptions from COVID-19, have led to a “crisis, in terms of national security” in the words of the under secretary. We explored efforts to broaden the Army’s appeal to young Americans, with an emphasis on the vast array of jobs available. The interview concludes by exploring the impact of the recent transfer of judicial authority over sexual assault investigations. As a result of the National Defense Authorization Act of 2022, the Office of Special Trial Counsel was established, and new requirements were placed for a Lead Special Trial Counsel independent from the survivor’s chain of command and the accused.

U.S. Force Posture in Eastern Europe 

According to Under Secretary Camarillo, the U.S. Army plays an “outsized” role in the concerted effort to rapidly train and equip Ukrainian forces as the war progresses. Aside from the primary objective of training Ukrainian forces to use American-supplied weapons systems, the Army’s mere presence in Eastern Europe reassures NATO allies and communicates a “unified response” to Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. 

Within the context of what the military terms “combined arms training,” Ukrainian troops are subjected to rigorous training on American weapons platforms. These rapid yet extensive exercises are conducted as part of the broader effort to prepare our Ukrainian partners for their upcoming Spring offensive. Specifically, during his trip to Grafenwöhr, Germany, the under secretary witnessed Ukrainian troops learning how to operate the Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicle, a combat vehicle delivered recently by Washington. Under Secretary Camarillo was notably impressed by the technical proficiency displayed by the Ukrainians, overcoming language barriers to quickly learn how to operate and maintain NATO-supplied weapons. Mr. Camarillo lauded Ukraine’s Non-Commissioned Officer (NCO) core, in particular, for their professionalism and grounded understanding of the operability of these weapons. 

As a further demonstration of America’s commitment to Ukraine’s security in the long term, the Department of Defense established a security assistance group in Wiesbaden, Germany, known colloquially as SAG-U. This military body, led by three-star Army General Tony Aguto, coordinates all NATO security and training efforts for Ukrainian troops. 

The Army’s Recruitment Crisis

The American military is currently suffering from a recruitment shortage that has been worsening over the past two years. Since the inception of an all-volunteer force fifty years ago, the number of Americans who have a familiarity with military service, either because they know someone who had served or because they themselves had served, has been declining precipitously. When considering that one of the main conduits to military service is knowing someone already in the military, this trend becomes all the more alarming. Recent DoD research indicates that only 9% of young Americans have a propensity to serve, the lowest level in 15 years. A compounding issue is the shrinking percentage of Americans who even meet the basic eligibility requirements. Additionally, only 23% of Americans aged 17-24 are eligible to join without being granted a waiver. This sequence of events is causing a “dwindling familiarity” with the opportunities offered by a career in military service, hampering recruitment efforts nationwide. Last year was the first time in several years the military has fallen short of its recruitment quota. Under Secretary Camarillo estimates that this presents a “multi-year challenge” for his office. 

Many of the exacerbating factors to this crisis are not of the military’s own making. Firstly, the COVID-19 pandemic prevented recruiters from interacting with high school students for two years. Added to this, the sedentary lifestyle of home instruction adversely affected the fitness levels of many young people. Moreover, the crisis is occurring against the backdrop of a very tight labor market, in which the military is forced to compete with private companies that offer attractive incentives and signing bonuses. Fundamentally, however, Under Secretary Camarillo believes the root cause of this issue is a lack of awareness of the wealth of opportunities possible with a career in the Army, or in the military more generally. Consequently, the Army is reshaping its marketing strategy to promote jobs in the AI and technology sectors as a means of broadening its appeal to members of Gen Z, in particular. The Army offers career opportunities in areas that many would not associate with military service. Doctors, lawyers, veterinarians, and research scientists are some of the examples given by the under secretary. The Army also offers opportunities to work on unique and novel projects. For example, a current project is exploring different ways to employ data science to conduct predictive maintenance on complex weapons systems. The Army is constantly looking for specialists to be involved in such projects. 

In its effort to arrest and reverse the shrinking trend of young Americans meeting basic entry requirements, the Army set up the ‘Future Soldier Prep Course.’ This program is geared towards providing the physical fitness and academic training needed for prospective applicants to meet those entry requirements and embark on successful military careers.

NDAA 2022 and Sexual Assault Reform

The National Defense Authorization Act of FY22 was notable for various reasons, but chief among them was the decision to remove investigations and prosecutions of sexual assault allegations from the decision-making chain of military commanders and entrust them to an independent civilian judicial authority. This move, strongly supported by Under Secretary Camarillo, removes command influence and any possible conflicts of interest from within the military. The transfer of oversight will also provide an opportunity to train and develop expertise on how to handle these crimes within one organization: the Office of Special Trial Counsel. This office, which will report directly to the Secretary of the Army, will be operational by the end of 2023, consistent with what the law requires. Special Trial Counsel will be led by people with a thorough knowledge of the military justice system and the Uniformed Code of Military Justice. 

The Undersecretary’s Note to Our Readers

Under Secretary Camarillo emphasizes the benefits of diversifying your portfolio by taking up opportunities to work in different sectors. He says “to the extent that is feasible, don’t be afraid to take chances and try different opportunities” within both the private and public sectors, as well as in academia and think tank sectors. All career paths will offer unique skills and networks, which you can then use in subsequent positions to make you more effective at your job. Speaking from personal experience, the under secretary’s prior career in private litigation practice in California gave him an insight into how best to engage the private sector during his time at the Pentagon. Those who have only worked in the government did not have such insight. Conversely, those who have spent their entire careers working in the private sector would spend time puzzling over the government decision-making process, something with which Under Secretary Camarillo is very familiar. 

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