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Staff photo by Eunice Lee
Brig. Gen. Robert Abrams (left) escorts Secretary of the Army John McHugh (right) to the helipad after McHugh spent the day touring Fort Irwin Thursday.

Q and A with Secretary of the Army McHugh

McHugh paid visit to Fort Irwin Thursday

FORT IRWIN • United States Secretary of the Army John McHugh talked with Fort Irwin leaders, spent time with soldiers and toured training out in the Iraqi villages at the National Training Center Thursday. McHugh visited Fort Irwin the day after he attended a memorial at Fort Carson, Colo., for 15 soldiers recently killed in Afghanistan.

The Desert Dispatch sat down with McHugh and the Army secretary fielded questions ranging from topics like the recent Fort Hood massacre to the Army’s renewable energy efforts.

Desert Dispatch: In the wake of the Fort Hood shooting, what tangible changes is the Army making to increase mental health services in order to prevent another similar incident in the future?

McHugh: Regardless of the tragedy at Fort Hood, we have to increase the number and variety of mental health service providers. We’d like to hire as many psychiatrists as we could, but it’s very hard to home grow those. We need to place mental health on the same level as we always have on physical health.

As to Fort Hood, it’s a tragedy that’s difficult to describe. We’re working with the Secretary of Defense and other services to take a 30- to 45-day look to see what lessons we can learn from the specific events at Fort Hood ... how we go about identifying people who are demonstrating problems and challenges, what are the reporting requirements, et cetera. It reflects off Fort Hood — it’s not a specific examination of Fort Hood instances.

I’ve made the promise to all the families that I’ve met with who’s loved ones were either hurt, injured or killed in that instance that we’re going to do everything we can to find out what went wrong and where it’s necessary to fix it and do everything possible to make sure that doesn’t happen again.

DD: How soon will that 30- to 45- day study period begin?

McHugh: For the Army, it won’t take too long. We’ll be set up and ready to go in pretty short order. This is something we started to think up literally the day after Fort Hood.

DD: With energy consumption making up a large portion of the Army’s costs, how important is it for the Army to lead renewable energy technology?

McHugh: The Army is making dramatic strides in reducing our energy consumption. Fort Irwin is a great example with the recent solar project which takes advantage of one of the must abundant areas of sunshine that the Mojave Desert enjoys. I’m thankful for that.

DD: Though the president hasn’t made any official decisions yet about a troop surge in Afghanistan, when do you anticipate more soldiers will be deployed there?

McHugh: I don’t endeavor in guessing what the president may or may not do, but I do know it’s a very serious decision. I think the president is doing the right thing in taking it very seriously and talking with as many leaders and military analysts and advisors as he can. Once he returns from his trip overseas, I have no doubt that he will immediately begin to continue that assessment and when the president’s ready to make it, we stand ready to fill whatever numbers he may put out there.

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