Louis Caldera makes no bones about the importance of Fort Gordon and the Signal Corps to the Army as the service gets leaner, meaner and more technologically advanced.
"Fort Gordon is critical," said the secretary of the Army, who was in Augusta on Tuesday speaking at a fund-raising luncheon at the National Science Center's Fort Discovery. Mr. Caldera is one of several high-level officials who will be in town this week as part of the Signal Symposium at Fort Gordon.
He said signal soldiers are highly valued, particularly because the battlefield of the future will be a place for highly trained soldiers using the latest in cutting-edge technology and equipment.
"The information is technologically intensive in all weapons systems," Mr. Caldera said. "We have to have people to operate, fix, debug and protect them."
The secretary of the Army is one of the major players in its transformation, a 20-year process that started in October 1999. James Hudgins, public affairs officer at Fort Gordon, said the Army is transforming from a "brute force-type" Army to an information-based one.
In the post-Cold War society, Mr. Caldera said, the Army is and will be more than just a force to be called on in a time of war. The activities it is involved in include working as a peacekeeper, helping those in natural disasters or fighting a war on drugs in South America.
"We're out there solving problems around the world, on real-world missions. These are not just hypothetical situations," he said.
Recruiting soldiers to meet the enlistment goals of the Army has not been a problem because it offers the incentives of good education. But keeping officers, particularly captains, from leaving the ranks has been difficult. The attrition rate for captains has stabilized at a higher rate than at other ranks, Mr. Caldera said.
The Army is looking at the reasons captains leave and is trying to find solutions. If they leave because their spouses want more education and employment opportunities, then maybe the Army can create those opportunities, he said.
The focus of the secretary's speech was on the importance of math, science and technology and the need to instill in young people a desire to learn these subjects.
Other officials scheduled to be in Augusta this week for the symposium are Gen. Eric Shinseki, the Army chief of staff, and Gen. John Abrams, commanding general at training and doctrine command in Fort Monroe, Va.
Reach Charmain Z. Brackett at (803) 441-6927.