Wars Have Been Catalyst for Army Change, Casey Says

WASHINGTON, March 24, 2011 — In a recent speech at the U.S. Mil­i­tary Acad­e­my in West Point, N.Y., Defense Sec­re­tary Robert M. Gates said the Army has changed the most of all the ser­vices.
“There’s no cat­a­lyst for change like a war,” said the archi­tect of much of that change, Army Chief of Staff Gen. George W. Casey Jr.
Gen. Mar­tin E. Dempsey will relieve Casey as Army chief of staff next month, when Casey ends four decades of ser­vice. Dur­ing an inter­view in his Pen­ta­gon office, the out­go­ing chief of staff spoke about the changes that have hap­pened in the Army since he became the service’s high­est-rank­ing offi­cer in 2007.

Army Gen. George W. Casey Jr.
Army Gen. George W. Casey Jr. dis­cuss­es the chal­lenges he has faced as Army chief of staff with Jim Gara­mone of Amer­i­can Forces Press Ser­vice. Casey is retir­ing in April 2011 after four decades of ser­vice.
U.S. Army pho­to by Myles Cullen
Click to enlarge

“We will have done in sev­en years what nor­mal­ly would take us 20 years to do,” the gen­er­al said. “We’ve done it in the mid­dle of a war, and we are a fun­da­men­tal­ly dif­fer­ent force and a more ver­sa­tile and expe­ri­enced force than we were sev­en years ago. I’m very pleased with the way that turned out.” 

In the months before Casey took over, sto­ries about the Army and its future were com­mon in the media, cen­ter­ing on con­cern about the pace of oper­a­tions and its effect on the service. 

It was the height of the U.S. surge into Iraq, and sol­diers were deployed for 15-month tours and often spend­ing less than a year at their homes before deploy­ing again. Wor­ries sur­faced that depar­tures of mid-lev­el offi­cers and non­com­mis­sioned offi­cers would “hol­low out” the ser­vice, and that fam­i­lies weary of the repeat­ed deploy­ments would get their sol­diers to vote with their feet and leave the Army. 

When he first took office, the gen­er­al and his wife trav­eled all over the Army to get their own sense of what was going on. “When we got back we thought our way through it, and it was clear to us that the fam­i­lies were the most brit­tle part of the force,” Casey said. “We need­ed to do some­thing imme­di­ate­ly to demon­strate to the fam­i­lies that we were going to take a load off.” 

An imme­di­ate move was to hire and pay fam­i­ly readi­ness advis­ers. The ser­vice put in place the Fam­i­ly Covenant Pro­gram, and dou­bled fund­ing for fam­i­ly readi­ness pro­grams. Deal­ing with deploy­ments was anoth­er pri­or­i­ty, Casey said. 

“The 15-month tours – on top of every­thing they had already done – that was chok­ing peo­ple,” Casey said. “We had to show them that there was day­light, and that day­light was going to come soon­er, rather than later.” 

Then-Pres­i­dent George W. Bush had autho­rized an increase in the size of the Army by 2012. Casey told about going into audi­to­ri­ums full of troops in 2007 and telling them relief would come in 2012. “And they would look at me like, “C’mon, Gen­er­al, get real,’ ” he said. 

He met with Defense Sec­re­tary Robert M. Gates and told him that the Army growth had to be sped up to 2010, “and he agreed,” the gen­er­al said. The Army met its growth goals in 2009. Casey also was wor­ried about a hol­low force, and instinc­tive­ly con­cen­trat­ed on the mid-lev­el offi­cers and NCOs. “They were the ones car­ry­ing the heav­i­est loads,” he said. Casey looked to the Army’s Cen­ter of Mil­i­tary His­to­ry for his­tor­i­cal research, and the data showed it real­ly was all about the midlev­el lead­ers. “When the peo­ple it takes you a decade to grow leave, it takes you a decade to get [that capa­bil­i­ty] back,” he said. 

The ser­vice put in place selec­tive reten­tion bonus­es for cap­tains and increased the selec­tive re-enlist­ment bonus­es for mid-lev­el NCOs. “I believe it gave a lot of those cap­tains the abil­i­ty to look at their spous­es and say, ‘We’re going to be OK,” he said. 

But peo­ple were say­ing the Army already was hol­low because of the readi­ness lev­el of “next-to-deploy” forces. The ser­vice had to strip these forces of sol­diers for units already in the com­bat the­ater. “We start­ed think­ing about gen­er­at­ing readi­ness dif­fer­ent­ly and enhanc­ing the Army force-gen­er­at­ing mod­el that we had come up with in 2005 to make it more real­is­tic,” Casey said. Fol­low-on forces now are ful­ly manned and ful­ly trained as a unit before deploying. 

Dwell time – the time troops spend at home between deploy­ments – became an impor­tant mea­sure­ment. The goal is for sol­diers to spend twice as much time at home as deployed. Casey said the dif­fer­ences are vis­i­ble in the sol­diers themselves. 

“I went out with a unit that was home for 18 months,” he said, “and you could see the dif­fer­ence that time at home meant in their faces, and in the prepa­ra­tion they could do.” The Army also is chang­ing to meet the demands of 21st cen­tu­ry oper­a­tions. Casey con­tin­ued the process of chang­ing to a mod­u­lar brigade sys­tem. Dur­ing World War II, the divi­sion was the basic unit for the Army. Today, it is the brigade com­bat team. 

“With every­thing we had going on, if I had made hard turns, it would have derailed the progress,” he said. “I came in and said, ‘Let’s fin­ish it,’ and we kept on going.” 

By the end of the year, the Army will have con­vert­ed all but a hand­ful of the 300-plus brigades to these mod­u­lar orga­ni­za­tions, “and we will have rebal­anced 300,000-plus sol­diers out of Cold War skills to those more nec­es­sary today,” Casey said. “Togeth­er, it’s the largest trans­for­ma­tion of the Army since World War II.” 

The per­son­al costs and effects of com­bat also pushed Casey. 

“I’d been in Iraq,” he said. “I’d seen the effects of com­bat on folks and what it did to folks, and I rec­og­nized that no mat­ter who you are, every­one is affect­ed by com­bat in one way or anoth­er. I set out to try to reduce the stig­ma asso­ci­at­ed with get­ting treat­ment for behav­ioral health issues.” 

Post-trau­mat­ic stress and trau­mat­ic brain injuries are the sig­na­ture wounds of the con­flicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, but there may be no out­ward­ly vis­i­ble signs of the injuries. “I start­ed get­ting the word out then to every­one we could that com­bat is hard, every­one is affect­ed by it — we’re human beings,” Casey said. “If you’ve got a prob­lem, get some help.” 

The gen­er­al said he want­ed to encour­age open­ness, and knew it was going to be a hard slog. 

“We went from where 90 per­cent of the peo­ple would­n’t get help to now, where about half of the peo­ple won’t get help,” he said. “That’s still a lot of peo­ple, but it’s a start. We still have to crack the com­pa­ny and pla­toon lev­els. It’s grad­u­al­ly get­ting more traction.” 

Con­cur­rent­ly, the Army’s sui­cide rate began rising. 

“It struck me how futile it is to be sit­ting around a com­pa­ny order­ly room – like we’ve all done – with the first sergeant say­ing, ‘Gosh, Smith was a won­der­ful guy. I should have seen some­thing, I should have known some­thing, I should have done some­thing.’ And you nev­er can,” Casey said. “It occurred to me that maybe we ought to come up with some­thing that gives them skills on the front end before they get to that dark place that would lead them to sui­cide to begin with.” 

The Army intro­duced Com­pre­hen­sive Sol­dier Fit­ness to unit oper­a­tions to avoid some of the stig­ma that some peo­ple asso­ciate with a med­ical pro­gram. “The whole idea was to bring men­tal fit­ness up to the same plane as phys­i­cal fit­ness,” the gen­er­al said. “The thrust behind it is [that] part of being a good sol­dier is know­ing when you need a break and when you need to get some help. That does­n’t mean you’re a wimp.” 

All this is hav­ing results. Army sur­veys show that fam­i­ly sat­is­fac­tion with the ser­vice has increased steadi­ly since 2007, and this con­tin­ues to trend upward. But the Army is not out of the woods yet, Casey said. For the next sev­er­al years, the Unit­ed States will con­tin­ue to send 50,000 to 100,000 sol­diers to com­bat. They are going to have to main­tain their edge, but so will the thou­sands of sol­diers who won’t be going to com­bat. At the same time, the Army has to recon­sti­tute after a decade at war. 

“What I wor­ry about is you get these guys back in gar­ri­son and you go back to the same bull I went through in the 1970s, and these young guys are going to say, ‘I’m out­ta here,’ ” Casey said. 

The ser­vice also has to con­cen­trate on build­ing resilience in sol­diers and their fam­i­lies, Casey said. “We’ve just got to keep at it,” he added. The Army has learned from Iraq and Afghanistan that the next con­flict prob­a­bly won’t look like any­thing it is fight­ing today. “We changed our doc­trine in 2008 and said that full-spec­trum oper­a­tions are offense, defense and sta­bil­i­ty oper­a­tions,” Casey said. “It’s done simul­ta­ne­ous­ly and in dif­fer­ent pro­por­tions, depend­ing where you are in the spec­trum of conflict.” 

He said that when he com­mand­ed the 1st Armored Divi­sion in 2000 and 2001, he believed that if a unit could do con­ven­tion­al war, it could do any­thing. “But after 32 months in Iraq, I don’t believe that any more,” he said. “What we real­ized was its not going to be either con­ven­tion­al or coun­terin­sur­gency. The wars in the 21st cen­tu­ry are going to be dif­fer­ent than the wars I grew up try­ing to fight. We’re not going to be fight­ing corps-on-corps oper­a­tions, except maybe [in] Korea. 

“So we’re work­ing sce­nar­ios where we have hybrid threats that are a mix of con­ven­tion­al, irreg­u­lar, crim­i­nal [and] ter­ror­ist, and we’ve set up the train­ing cen­ters with these types of [oppos­ing forces]. The 2nd Brigade, 82nd Air­borne Divi­sion, went through such a hybrid threat scenario. 

“We’re train­ing them for full-spec­trum oper­a­tions, and that includes hav­ing to deal with uni­formed mil­i­taries,” he said. 

More work needs to be done, Casey said. 

“While we’ve talked about this and thought about it,” he added, “until we start putting brigades out there on the ground and have them do it, we’re not going to crack it.” 

Casey said he is wor­ried about the Army’s bud­get. He wants a bal­anced force in which the man­ning, train­ing and equip­ping is in the right pro­por­tion. “The kick­er is the wheels are falling off the bud­get,” he said. The Army will remain its cur­rent size through at least 2015. 

“Peo­ple are moti­vat­ed and focused and try­ing to do the right thing,” the gen­er­al said. 

Casey com­mand­ed his first pla­toon in April 1971 in Mainz, West Ger­many. He had nine sol­diers in a 36-man mor­tar pla­toon, and five of them were pend­ing dis­charge from the Army. Each com­pa­ny had a duty offi­cer, he said, and that offi­cer had to be armed. 

“Drugs were pret­ty bad, and there were ten­sions,” he said. “I remem­ber … the first time we went to the field it struck me like a ton of bricks that these guys depend­ed on me, and I resolved at that point to nev­er let my sub­or­di­nates down. I always tried to make the unit I was in as good as it could be.” It was just the scale that changed. 

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

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