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Army secretary nominee glides through confirmation hearing

If confirmed, Christine Wormuth would be the first woman to serve in the role

Christine Wormuth, nominee to be secretary of the Army, testifies during her Senate Armed Service Committee confirmation hearing in the Dirksen Senate Office Building on Thursday.
Christine Wormuth, nominee to be secretary of the Army, testifies during her Senate Armed Service Committee confirmation hearing in the Dirksen Senate Office Building on Thursday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Christine Wormuth, President Joe Biden’s pick for Army secretary, pledged Thursday to take on a range of challenges facing the service, from personnel matters to aging equipment to changing missions, winning praise from Senate Armed Services Committee members on both sides of the aisle. 

There is, she told the committee, an opportunity to make the changes needed to keep the Army “the best fighting force in the world.”

“If confirmed, my goal will be to help the Army to continue to transform to be able to compete, deter and, if necessary, fight and win,” said Wormuth, who served as the Pentagon’s policy chief during the Obama administration.

Multiple senators commented on Wormuth’s strong qualifications: During the Obama administration, she served on the National Security Council before becoming deputy Defense undersecretary for strategy, plans and forces and leading 2014’s quadrennial defense review. She spent two years in the Pentagon’s top civilian policy position and led the Rand Corporation’s international security and defense policy center.

Chairman Jack Reed, D-R.I., a West Point graduate and Army veteran, noted the historic nature of Wormuth’s nomination.

“If confirmed, Ms. Wormuth would be the first woman to serve as secretary of the Army, and I am pleased that we have finally reached this moment,” he said.

Indeed, Wormuth would join Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III, the first Black person to lead the Pentagon, and Kathleen Hicks, the first woman to be confirmed by the Senate as deputy Defense secretary, in breaking down barriers within the Pentagon’s E-ring.

Republican Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa noted that when she was commissioned in the Army Reserve three decades ago, leadership opportunities for women in the service were extremely limited.

Ernst said her daughter plans on joining the Army next year.

“I am so thankful that she will have a strong, intelligent and well-qualified woman leading our U.S. Army,” Ernst said. “I can assume your confirmation,” she added, calling Wormuth “the right person at the right time.”

Wormuth stands to take over a service that faces its share of problems, many of which have attracted considerable congressional attention. Sexual assault, highlighted by the assault and murder of Spc. Vanessa Guillén at Fort Hood in 2020, substandard housing, recruitment and retention challenges, and extremism within the ranks are all pressing issues that await the Army’s next civilian leader.

The Army is also trying to modernize its weapons and equipment, some of which is decades old.

Wormuth specifically praised the energy of Army Futures Command, the organization tasked with advancing the service’s top priorities. But Wormuth noted that there has been some “friction” between that command and the Army’s top logistics and technology officials, and she said she wanted to ensure that “the whole team is working together, given the challenges in the program.”

Arkansas Republican Sen. Tom Cotton, who served tours in Iraq and Afghanistan as an Army officer, expressed concerns that Wormuth would preside over the Army during a period of constrained budgets.

With the Air Force and the Navy appearing to have the most pressing financial needs, Cotton worried that the Army might lose some of its funding, resulting in a cut to troop levels.

“I don’t think anyone would be well served by looking at the Army as a bill payer,” Wormuth said, adding that she would be skeptical of major cuts to troop levels to pay for other priorities.

“I would not want to see us return to the days of 15-month-long deployments and regular use of stop-loss,” she said, referring to a method of retaining soldiers by not allowing them to leave the service. “I would certainly be a strong advocate for the Army in the event that we have to make hard choices.”

Wormuth also said she shares the view of Army leaders that long-range precision fire should be the service’s top acquisition priority, pointing specifically to challenges posed by Russia and China.

“Given the quite sophisticated integrated air defenses that we’ll likely be facing, I think it behooves us to develop capabilities that allow us to strike targets from very long distances,” she said.

Unlike Colin Kahl, whom Biden tapped for the Pentagon policy job, Wormuth did not face unanimous criticism from Republicans for being too partisan, and she appears to have an easy road ahead of her for confirmation.

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