Major General Rob Ostenberg (Part 1)
U.S. Army Reserve
Rob Ostenberg, a Major General (2 Star), is the Commanding General for the 63rd Regional Readiness Command of the U.S. Army Reserve. He is also an Advanced Field Underwriting Consultant for Financial and Estate Planning with a major financial firm. During our interview, he explains his involvement in the War on Terrorism and the U.S. influence in Iraq, describes how the U.S. Army Reserve supports our country and how combat has changed, discusses what values he believes are important in today's world, shares how he prays for the world, and provides inspiration for all of us.
How much of a career is your Army command?
Well, recently, it seems like my full-time career. This past year, I had 240 days of active duty.
What do you do on active duty?
The Army is at war, and while I have to concentrate most of my activities on the readiness of my 144 units and 12,000 soldiers for deployment in support of the Combatant Commands, I also have to concentrate on the transformation of the force -- the upgrading of facilities and equipment. We cannot hang out a sign that reads: CLOSED for REMODELING. In the past 30 days, I've deployed five units to Iraq and Kuwait. I've also welcomed back a major Military Police company that was extended beyond one year in Iraq. I have another Port Operations company of 270 soldiers returning this week, who were also extended and served almost 22 months. I spent a week at Ft. Lewis, WA, visiting units and meeting with other Generals to discuss training and retention issues. I have a Heavy Boat Company at Mare Island, CA, to inspect a new maintenance facility and a state of the art, "best in the US" Bridge Simulator, which will be used by our vessel masters to practice boat and docking operations at ports around the world in a virtual reality setting. These facilities are due to be operational this December. I've worked with employers who have employees that are members of the National Guard or the Army Reserve. I've met with other general officers and Lt. Gen. Robert Clark, the 5th US Army Commander, to discuss how we in California can work together to better train soldiers. I've spoken to company commanders attending a team leadership course. I've updated and informed elected officials of any information they may need to know.
What command responsibilities do you have?
I command the 63d Regional Readiness Command, which is comprised of 12,000 soldiers in nine major subordinate commands, located in 48 facilities in Arizona, California and Nevada. Subordinate units are comprised of 144 deployable units and 12 maintenance and supply activities. I oversee the base operation services for the subordinate commands and for all other U.S. Army Reserve commands in the region. I administer a budget of $80,000 and manage over 1,000 full-time staff members. I am responsible for all aspects of command with emphasis on providing trained and ready units and soldiers capable of deploying whenever and wherever to support the Combatant Commander's war plan.
What are some of the duties of the Reserves?
Regional Readiness provides service support and logistics for the Army -- military police, aviators, transportation truck drivers, often transporting ammunition and fuel ahead of the combat lines so when they get there, they have what they need. One of the companies under my command purifies the water for drinking and gets it to specific locations. We also support the Marines. We worked together with Iraqis to set up a prison system in Mosul. The first Reservist who was killed was a medic. We are in ten countries doing different jobs.
Have you gone over to Iraq?
In the past two years, I have been to Iraq, Kuwait, Afghanistan, Qatar, and Uzbekistan. I have had very harmonious visits so far. We have been fired on in aircraft but to no avail. I have trusted in the protection of God and have not limited my activities beyond what wisdom has dictated. I have felt very safe for the most part. I head back to Iraq and Kuwait in mid-September. I will be out with my soldiers wherever they are working, and I will sleep in tents or in the same accommodations as my lower enlisted. They know me well enough to expect my desire to be with them where possible. I won't have my Aide, etc., with me, just the armed escort that is required. In addition, my Military Intelligence soldiers are in Guantanamo, Cuba, and I have been there to view their intelligence gathering and analysis of satellite imagery.
What are your responsibilities when you go over to the war zones?
When I go over, I check on my own soldiers, but I am also being sent by my boss, Lt. General James R. Helmly (a 3 Star General), to check out a number of U.S. Army Reserve units in other commands to see what they are doing and what their challenges are in an effort to improve deficiencies or change systems to better support them. Last time, I saw about 18,000 troops and 60 different organizations. Our men and women are spread all over the map, and when I visit, the soldiers protecting me have a tough job and are put in harm's way. However, I feel that I need to make the effort to touch as many units and soldiers as I can and live in their environment while I visit to better understand their issues -- like having the proper equipment, getting promoted on time, or learning of family problems so my staff can help those at home.
Why were you selected to do the inspections?
Because of my background and expertise in the area. I've learned by studying and going over there. I've been involved from the get-go. I've had soldiers there since October of 2001, and have been through all the changes.
What has been the influence of the U.S. Army in Iraq?
I believe the Army has been a great contributor to the improvement in the quality of life in both Iraq and Afghanistan. In Afghanistan, there will be elections in a few months. Of the registered voters, 40% are women, and women also make up over 50% of the student body in a college for teachers I visited near Bagram. Last year we had finished over 600 water wells, and villages were getting clean water for the first time in several decades. In addition, many schools have been built or re-built. In Iraq, for the past 30 years, the majority of the 20 million people there only received news that the former government approved. When we entered Baghdad, Saddam had the people convinced that we weren't there, until they saw us. Now, Iraq has included the 100,000 Jews that live there. The Jews can now close shops on Saturday, when before they were forced to keep them open, even though Saturday is their Sabbath. No one had cell phones or satellite dishes. Today, cell phones and satellite disks abound. The vast majority of people there are grateful for the change in government; it's the small minority who are making problems. We are not occupationalists; we will leave when Iraq gets on its feet. Following World War II, we were in Germany for seven years, and they were shooting at us. All the reports back then said that the peace would fail. When the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were attacked and Americans were killed, the terrorists brought the war to us, and they will continue to do so until we stop them and destroy their resources. The enemy is different today from any other time. In the past century, wars were fought between countries or nations. To defeat the enemy, you conquered their country. The terrorist organizations today do not have a country, but are spread around the globe. They operate in cells and communicate by the internet and electronic means. They have great financial resources and have proven to be lethal and evasive as they attack targets around the world. They are also prepared and willing to die. Our influence has been positive. I don't want to lose another soldier, but loss is not new to us as we have had to deal with conflict throughout our history.
Do you find satisfaction in what you are doing?
The answer is yes, because the young men and women I work with are phenomenal. Last year we got a call that we didn't have enough MPs. In July of last year, I received an order to activate a company of 124 MPs one year ahead of schedule and have them ready to deploy in April, 2004. We had only nine months to identify and train the soldiers. If a new recruit wanted to be in the company, it would take five months just to train in the required skills. I thought there was no way to succeed given the limited time frame. However, when the word got out, we had soldiers that were already serving in other specialties who wanted to re-train as MPs. On April 1, there were over 160 soldiers assigned who came from the Individual Retired Reserve, the National Guard, and from my own commands -- truck drivers, cooks, mechanics and logisticians. They flocked to this company because they wanted to deploy. That's incredible! These young men and women are so dedicated and want to serve our country. There are so many who want to come into the military today. The educational level now is higher than it was in my era. It's amazing. I've got linguists, surgeons, nurses and medics, interpreters, lawyers, judges, criminal investigators, port operators and more highly articulate and educated young, and some not so young, soldiers.
What do you see as important in today's world?
When I talk to my soldiers or any soldier, one of the most important things we emphasize is values.
What values are necessary?
The U.S. Army teaches and values LDRSHIP, an acronym for Loyalty, Duty, Respect, Selfless Service, Honor, Integrity, Personal Courage. It takes courage to do what is right and tell people they're doing wrong. If we look at what it takes to be a good citizen, friend, student, or family member, these values are necessary for anyone. In addition, we have the Warrior Ethos: we don't accept defeat and never leave a fallen comrade. When I ask my soldiers, "Are you wearing your dog-tags?" I'm asking them if they're living those values. The values are on a plastic tag hanging on their dog-tags. We all have these values. We have to live them; and if we do what's best for the organization as a whole, we will serve the soldiers very well. They're the ones who take the hill or fight in the desert. We have to take care of them, give them the best strategy and the best tools because they're the ones taking care of us.
What were you doing before 9/11?
I was in a division element that looked at people to make sure they were trained and ready to execute missions according to doctrine, a system and format that includes rules of engagement and a code of conduct. We train everyone the same way.
Do you feel your role has changed since 9/11?
My primary task is to give soldiers the proper training and equipment so they can survive in combat and execute the missions assigned to them by the Combatant Commanders. What has changed is how we think and how we approach the task of fighting a terrorist organization(s) that threatens our very lives and security. We have been preparing for conflict. 9/11 brought the devastation to our soil and killed Americans. Now the Army has the task to find and destroy those who would threaten us and repeat similar attacks as we have seen in other parts of the world. The U.S. Army Reserve and National Guard soldiers are on the government payroll to fill out the Active Army formations. I am incredulous when I hear that the Reserves should not be used to fight in conflicts. The Cold War is over. There are no lines now. Within 20 miles from where you are, there are two or three groups that are sympathetic to Al Queda and are providing Al Queda with financial support. What has really changed is the way we operate -- the way we fight and defend ourselves. Since 9/11, we have changed our training four times because the enemy has changed the plan of attack and tactics on us. As we continue to retrain them, we have to keep changing doctrine. We're adjusting on a daily basis.
Isn't there something you can do about the Al Queda sympathizers?
In this country, we do have freedom of speech and the right to assemble. Thus, it's even more important to understand that regardless of what Al Queda or terrorist supporters do or where they go, we are a target. We have to watch ourselves, too -- what we do and how we defend ourselves. The U.S. Army Reservists are now being approached by the press. They need to think in detail about the image they want to portray. They may not know all the information and give inaccurate information. But what they do give will be believed. Before 9/11, no one listened to an Army Reservist. That has changed, so we have to be careful. We want to be positive examples. There's enough negative stuff going on.
Do you find yourself praying for our troops and the world?
Oh yes. I've been working with the 23rd Psalm and with a verse from Hebrews:
Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord. (Heb. 12:14)
That's something that I think is poignant in today's world. Another passage that I find helpful discusses good and evil:
For your obedience is come abroad unto all men. I am glad therefore on your behalf: but yet I would have you wise unto that which is good, and simple concerning evil. (Rom. 16:19)
I think if we all prayed for Al Queda, all the soldiers, the extremists overseas or in our own country -- if we prayed for those people, and they became Godlike, then we wouldn't have a problem; it would be eliminated. Any warrior has to seek peace. I've been within inches of the enemy. My people have been interrogators of the enemy, and some of them are never going to be reformed, which is sad. Some have such a venom and hatred in their hearts for anyone not like themselves that they want them dead, even those in their same faith. The extremists tried to assassinate the President in Uzbekistan because he was too conservative for them. And if you let these people who have been blinded by such hatred out of prison, they will hunt us down. That's the saddest thing. I couldn't even imagine it until I saw it. I still believe that there's good in everyone. But the hatred is sometimes very difficult to see, and I think that we all need to pray that they become more kindly and Godlike. And when I say Godlike, I do not mean a God who destroys. Some think that God is there to help them destroy. There's only one God, and you can't make up what God, He or She, is like or use God for personal gain. God is absolute good. Yet, throughout history, people have used God as a justification for destroying others.
We all need to be careful who we're listening to. We all can hear through God. We don't need to hear God through an interpreter. We've been given guidance with the Beatitudes in the Sermon on the Mount and the Commandments. We must follow them.
If everyone, and I mean everyone, "follow[ed] peace with all men," then the world would indeed be a better place.
About Major General Robert Ostenberg
Major General, Robert Briggs Ostenberg, has served the United States as a commissioned officer for 34 years, with total years of service over 35 years. Currently, he is the Commanding General of the 63rd Regional Support Command, U.S. Army Reserve, in Los Alamitos, California. Prior to that, he served as the Deputy Commanding officer for the same unit. He served in Vietnam and was a Platoon Leader. His current work is instrumental in the War on Terrorism. He has received many honors and awards, including the Legion of Merit (with 1 oak leaf cluster), the Bronze Star with "V" device (with 1 oak leaf cluster), the Purple Heart, and many more. He has had extensive military training in addition to degree in Economics from Principia College.
In addition to his military service, Major General Ostenberg is an Advanced Field Underwriting Consultant for Financial and Estate Planning with a major financial firm. He appreciates the support of his wife and daughter. Family support is the "glue that keeps everything together."
To learn more about General Ostenberg, his awards and honors, and the 63rd Regional Readiness Command, click on the website - www.usarc.army.mil/63rsc/biocg.htm.