USA — Army Needs to Bolster Troop, Family Support, Caseys Say

WASHINGTON — After nine years of war, it’s clear the nation will be engaged in con­flict for some time to come, but less evi­dent is what effect that long-term com­bat will have on ser­vice­mem­bers and their fam­i­lies, the Army chief of staff said today.

“We have to try to fig­ure out the cumu­la­tive effects — how they will man­i­fest them­selves after nine years of war,” Army Gen. George W. Casey Jr. said. “We have to work our way through that.”

Speak­ing at the 2010 Defense Forum here, Casey and his wife, Sheila, expressed their con­cern for ser­vice­mem­bers and fam­i­lies who are strug­gling with the stress and demands of near­ly a decade of war.

Amer­i­ca is in a peri­od of “per­sis­tent con­flict,” Casey not­ed.

“Even though we’ve had some suc­cess in Iraq and have drawn down to about 50,000 Amer­i­can men and women there, the war isn’t over,” he said. “We’re at war with a glob­al extrem­ist ter­ror­ist net­work that attacked us on our soil. We believe this is a long-term ide­o­log­i­cal strug­gle.”

Glob­al trends are exac­er­bat­ing the sit­u­a­tion rather than ame­lio­rat­ing it, Casey said. Glob­al­iza­tion, for instance, has cre­at­ed “have and have-not” cul­tures that increas­ing­ly are sus­cep­ti­ble to recruit­ment from ter­ror­ist orga­ni­za­tions. Also, pop­u­la­tions in some coun­tries will dou­ble in the next decade, result­ing in an increased demand for lim­it­ed resources. Casey said he’s most con­cerned with weapons of mass destruc­tion in the wrong hands and safe havens for ter­ror­ist orga­ni­za­tions. Ter­ror­ists have tried to attack Amer­i­cans on U.S. soil twice since Christ­mas, he not­ed.

These fac­tors all add up to a sus­tained con­flict, “maybe not in the same scope, but a large num­ber of sol­diers deployed in harm’s way for a while,” Casey said.

At the same time, the mil­i­tary still is deal­ing with the impact the past nine years of war have had on troops and their fam­i­lies, he said, cit­ing some sta­tis­tics to dri­ve the point home. More than 3,200 sol­diers have died, leav­ing more than 20,000 fam­i­ly mem­bers behind. More than 27,000 sol­diers have been wound­ed, with 7,500 of those sol­diers severe­ly wound­ed and requir­ing long-term care. Since 2000, the Army has diag­nosed about 100,000 sol­diers with trau­mat­ic brain injury, and since 2003, about 25,000 have been diag­nosed with post-trau­mat­ic stress.

“I hon­est­ly think those num­bers are prob­a­bly low,” the gen­er­al said. “We wres­tle hard with reduc­ing the stig­ma of seek­ing care.”

Casey called for bet­ter sup­port of sol­diers to build their resilience. It takes 24 to 36 months to recov­er from a com­bat deploy­ment, he said, cit­ing a recent study. Yet, the Army is deploy­ing sol­diers at a rate of one year deployed and one year at home. The Army’s objec­tive is to have two years at home between deploy­ments, but that won’t come to fruition till 2012.

“We’re still a way from meet­ing that objec­tive,” he acknowl­edged. The best-case sce­nario, he added, would be to give sol­diers three years at home.

A rapid deploy­ment pace and the cur­rent lack of “dwell time” at home have accel­er­at­ed the cumu­la­tive effects of war, Casey said, and his wife agreed.

“Our sol­diers are stretched and they’re stressed,” Mrs. Casey said. “And par­ents, spous­es and chil­dren of our troops are all feel­ing the stress.”

Mrs. Casey said she’s con­cerned for the fam­i­ly unit, espe­cial­ly young fam­i­lies who don’t have enough time to build the bonds that will sus­tain them, but yet are bat­tered with con­tin­u­al deploy­ments.

“I wor­ry about the long-term effect this is hav­ing on our chil­dren,” she said.

Mrs. Casey recalled speak­ing with a woman a few years back. The woman expressed fears about her two young chil­dren nev­er know­ing or build­ing an emo­tion­al con­nec­tion with their father because of long sep­a­ra­tions due to deploy­ments. “The only thing I could do for her at that time was hold her as she cried,” she said.

The general’s wife called for more ser­vices and sup­port to stay in front of the prob­lem. “If we wait until they’re back,” she said, “we’re not going to be able to react fast enough for them.”

She also called for increased sup­port for fam­i­lies with the added chal­lenge of car­ing for wound­ed war­riors. The sup­port the nation owes these war­riors and their care­givers is “sig­nif­i­cant,” she said.

To bol­ster this sup­port, the Army is putting con­sid­er­able efforts into devel­op­ing its behav­ioral health force, the gen­er­al said.

Casey high­light­ed sev­er­al Army sup­port pro­grams, includ­ing the Com­pre­hen­sive Sol­dier Fit­ness pro­gram, which equips sol­diers with the tools to build resilience. The pro­gram fea­tures an online sur­vey that directs those with needs to online self-help mod­ules. More than 800,000 peo­ple have tak­en the program’s online sur­vey since Octo­ber, he not­ed.

While progress has been made, much remains to be done, Casey acknowl­edged.

The Caseys both praised mil­i­tary mem­bers and their fam­i­lies for their resilience in the face of the “new nor­mal” of mul­ti­ple com­bat tours. “Our troops and their fam­i­lies have man­aged remark­ably well,” the gen­er­al said. “You can be extreme­ly proud of the men and women, not only of the Army, but all of our armed forces.”

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)

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