Jan 30, 2009- Army Family Action Plan Conference address
February 18, 2009
General Casey: Thank you; thank you very much. There's lots of positive energy here in this room. I need to bottle it and take it back to the Pentagon with me-there's a lot of negative waves around there. Thanks for all the passion and effort that you put into this. Just sitting here listening to the presentations today was very instructional for me; it gives me a good feel about what's going on out there, so thank you for bringing all of this forward.
Welcome to all of the spouses here. Susan [Schwartz], it's great to have you. Suzie is the only wife of the Service Chiefs who knows the words to every Service song. And I've watched her sing them. Now, I also watched Suzie at the inauguration and I think Susie knows the words to every song. Great to have you here; we'll share.
Let me just give you a little context for what we're trying to do on the Family-side. Because as I have been saying-and as you see it every day-the Army is out of balance: we're so consumed by the demands of the current war that we can't do the things that we know we must do to sustain soldiers and families for the long haul. We can't do the things that we know we must do to prepare for other eventualities. In 2007, we began a plan that's going to take every bit of four years to put ourselves back in balance. It is centered around four imperatives:
Sustain Soldiers and Families-that's the number one thing that we have to do. The volunteer force is a national treasure. I called my predecessor, Shy Meyer, who was the Chief of Staff of the Army who went to Congress in 1980 after the Vietnam War and said the Army is hollow. I asked, "Shy, what happened'" He said, "George, it's all about the people... when those mid-level officers and non-commissioned officers start walking out the door-the ones it takes you a decade to grow-it's takes you a decade to grow their replacements." And I lived through that. Frankly the work we're doing on the Army Family Covenant is an important part of our efforts to sustain this force and I'll come back to that in a little more depth in a second.
Secondly, it's to continue to prepare our Soldiers for success in the current conflicts. You need to know that anyone we sent in harms way is going to be well-equipped and well-trained. And we won't flinch on that. When I go out to talk to Soldiers about their equipment, occasionally I'll run into a guy who wants another gun, but folks are generally very satisfied about what they've got. We'll continue to deliver on this.
The most important thing we can do to properly prepare folks is to increase the time spent at home between deployments. And one of the major elements of our plan to get ourselves back in balance is to increase the size of the Army over the next three years.
We started out in 2007 and we were going to increase the growth by 2012. I'd go to speak with groups like this on installations around the United States and I'd say "We're going to get bigger and we're going to do it by 2012." They'd look at me like, "Come on General, get with it, tell me something that means something to me." So, with Secretary Gates' help, we moved it forward to 2010. And recruiting and retention is such that the personnel folks tell me that we'll meet our growth objectives-in terms of people-this year-which is a huge help to us. It'll still take us a couple of years to put the units together, but we'll have the people.
What does that mean' What it means is if you hold demand steady and increase our growth that over the next three years, what you'll see is the average dwell time gradually improved. We were at less than 1:1 with the 15 month deployments-we're off those deployments now although we have some Soldiers deployed for 15 months; everybody going now is going for 12 months. This year, in 2009, we won't get quite to 18 months at home, but we'll get almost there. Next year, we'll get to 18 months on average and the year after that we'll get to almost 24 months. Now, demand has to hold about steady. I think you're going to see as we switch some forces from Iraq to Afghanistan, you're going to see a small increase for a six or seven month period, but then you'll see a net decrease in the number of forces we have deployed. But it won't impact our ability to continually improve the time Soldiers spend at home.
Time that Soldiers spend at home is important for a lot of reasons. One: it's important for them-and you-so they can reconstitute themselves and the Family. Second: it's gives them time to start working on other things. And third: it gives us time to get them the people and equipment they need to do something else. Again, we're still facing a couple of tough years, but a gradual improvement as we look over the next three years.
Third is reset. Reset is an Army term of art. In fact, I was testifying before Congress and one of the senators said to me, "Reset' General, that sounds like something I do to my computer." Well, what we're talking about is restoring Soldiers and units to their full capability after extended deployments. We started a pilot program to do this, and the intent of the pilot program is to slow the train down in the six month period. We are our own worst enemies. I saw myself do this. We come back from a tour in Iraq where we're working seven days a week, going one hundred miles an hour. It takes a while to slow that mental train down. But we had folks gone for 15 months and when they come back, they're working until 2200 at night. It doesn't make sense.
So we say look, when you come back, for the first six months we want you to go intro drydock. We want you to stand down a bit, take it easy, and at the end of that six month period we'll have you equipped at a level that you can begin getting on with training for other things. I need some help with that...it's ok to nag your husbands when they are working until late at night-tell them the Chief says that's dumb. We don't need that. But reset is important. It will take us a few more years to implement that across the Army, but I tell everybody, slow the train down during that first six months that you're home.
Lastly, transform. We didn't have the Army we needed on September 11th, 2001. We didn't have a 21st Century Army. We had a great Army that was very good at fighting fixed battles on the plains of Europe or in the deserts of Saudi Arabia. But, it wasn't the Army we needed for the 21st Century challenges. So we're working hard to change that.
We're 85% done with the conversion of our Army from Cold War formations to formations very relevant to what we're doing right now We're 60 percent done with rebalancing about 140,000 soldiers from skills that were necessary in the Cold War to skills that are necessary now. Taken together, that's the largest organizational transformation we've had since World War II. And we'll complete that over the next three years as well.
Another part of Army transformation that you see every day, I'm sure, is rebasing. As I look at all of the rebasing going on right now between the base realignment and closure, the building of new facilities for the growth of the Army, and bringing guys back from overseas-380,000 Soldiers, Families and Civilians are going to move somewhere over the next three years. It reminds me of a story. A guy driving a A,A1/2 ton truck with chickens on the roads of West Virginia. Every once in a while the guy would get out of his truck and go back and shake the cages. Finally, the curiosity of a guy from New York got the best of him, he pulled up and said why do you get out of your truck and shake those cages' The driver says, I've got a half ton truck and a ton of chickens, I've got to keep half of them in the air all the time. [Laughter]. That's kind of what's going on with these facilities.
But I'll tell you, you can't go on an Army base around the country without seeing cranes. And long term, that's a great thing for us.
Another thing about transformation is that we have to transform our support institutions to support an Army that's on a rotational cycle-and that's hard. As we looked at this, all of our support systems-including our Family systems-were designed to support a garrison-based Army that lived to train. The big deal was to go for six weeks to the National Training Center, maybe six months to the Balkans. We haven't done that in awhile. And we're working to put the whole Army on a rotational cycle much like Army and the Navy. To do that we have to have a significant revamping of how we do business. Frankly, I think the family support systems are leading the way on this. We're committed to doing that and you'll see these changes taking place over the next few years.
I talked about how the force is under stress and we have another couple of hard years. But, ask yourself, why are we doing this in the first place' Why is it so important' Today happens to be the fourth anniversary of the first elections in Iraq after the fall of Saddam Hussein. [Applause]. Think of the images of Iraqis with the purple fingers, exercising their right to vote for the first time in their lives. A wonderful story... my Command Sergeant Major Jeff Mellinger was outside a polling station and he met a 75 year old man. He had his purple finger, and the man said for the first time in my life I feel like I'm alive. That is was made possible by the men and women of the US Armed Forces and it's hugely important for our country and the world.
These things take time. I got an email earlier this week from Tony Cucculo who is the 3rd Infantry Division commander. He was a Lieutenant Colonel in Bosnia when I was a Brigadier General in the 1st Armored Divison. He got a note from a note from a Bosniak girl that he met in Brcko -a major focal point for ethnic strife in Bosnia, the Bosniaks, Serbs and Muslims were all fighting each other for control of this strategic town. So here's the email.
"Dear Mr. Cuccolo. My name is "Jenny". I am from a town near Brcko, Bosnia. You may not remember me, but we met in 1996. I was five years old... You invited me into my home and gave me a beautiful zebra toy which I have. Also, you gave me a doll called "Sally Ann." A few days before you left Brcko, you were a guest on local t.v. and sent me a greeting. Now I am 18. I am finishing high school in Brcko. I learned English a lot and decided to write you. I want to thank you for your gifts. You promised me that when I grow up I will walk through the streets of Brcko again, and that came true. I hope you will visit Brcko again and see me and my family. Sincerely, Jenny."
That's the impact of the men and women of our Armed Forces have around the world. It doesn't happen as fast as we want, but that's the difference that you and your spouses are making. That's why we have taken it upon ourselves to ensure that you have the support you need to sustain yourselves.
So I thank you for your passion, thank you for your energy, thank you for what you do for this Army. Good luck, and God bless you all.
Thank you very much.