Army service can be much more than wearing of uniform
May 14, 2009
- I am so blessed to be part of a community in which I don't have to sell the Army because the community is such a strong supporter.
- (Geren) has been instrumental in transforming the Army from a foreign-based Cold War kind of Army into what it is today.
- This job is a labor of the heart.
- The military is a profession of Americans who are very noble and selfless in character, and I am very proud to be associated with that."
In local protocol arenas, Huntsville's John Rogers holds the rank of a three-star general.
He is also considered a personal representative of the Secretary of the Army.
Yet, Rogers doesn't spend his days wearing an officer's uniform. Although he is a retired colonel, Rogers often dons civilian dress for local Army ceremonies and events.
Since May 2003, Rogers, a Vietnam veteran, has served in the volunteer position as a civilian aide to the Secretary of the Army, or CASA. He represents the interests of the Army in north Alabama, promotes good relations between the Army and the local community, and uses his experience in weapons technology and air defense missile systems modernization to the benefit of Redstone Arsenal.
In late April, Rogers agreed to represent north Alabama as a CASA volunteer for another two-year team. He also recently attended the annual CASA conference in San Antonio.
"It was probably the best meeting that we've had," Rogers said. "We had visits to Army headquarters (at Fort Sam Houston, Texas) and to Brooke Army Medical Center. We had a day trip to Fort Hood, Texas. We were able to witness a Purple Heart ceremony and a brigade deployment to Iraq. And we had a very active and engaging time with the secretary himself."
The CASAs discussed among themselves and with Secretary of the Army Pete Geren several key Army issues, including the rise of suicide among Soldiers, Army awards programs, impact of deployments on Army families, and the effects and progress of the Base Realignment and Closure Commission recommendations.
"I stay close to what is happening with BRAC in north Alabama," Rogers said. "The secretary is very interested in BRAC developments. I report to him on issues and activities associated with BRAC."
Rogers' military career included numerous command and staff positions and five years of Army command experience culminating with commander of the 11th Air Defense Artillery Brigade, a 2,500-person Army tactical air defense organization located at Fort Bliss, Texas. He retired in 1991, and continued his career in the air and missile defense industry with local defense contractors.
With 26 years of service, it was hard for Rogers to leave behind his Army association. His role as CASA keeps him close to the heartbeat of the Army.
"I like being a part of the CASA network because it keeps me involved with the Army. I like the information exchange that goes on between myself and the secretary's office, and that is beneficial to the local community. I like being a liaison between the community and the Army," Rogers said.
"I am so blessed to be part of a community in which I don't have to sell the Army because the community is such a strong supporter of the Army and Army activities."
Like other CASAs, Rogers is monitoring the developments in the search for a replacement for Geren, who has announced that he will leave the post sometime this summer.
"He has been one of the best secretaries," Rogers said. "He has been instrumental in transforming the Army from a foreign-based Cold War kind of Army into what it is today as a result of changes in Congress and 9/11. I'm awed with how much the Army has had to deal with while still getting the job done."
The Secretary of the Army has a vital role in a military unlike any other in the world.
"The military operates under civilian leadership," Rogers said. "It's the best model that mankind has ever had. The roles are set and the military operates at the command of the president. Whatever role the executive wants the military to have, then the military, in good conscience, has to execute that role and salute that role. Whatever the policy is, the military has to follow it."
Rogers was first asked about the possibility of serving in a functional role as a CASA.
"Originally, when Secretary of the Army Thomas White was serving, the proposal was to have a civilian aide for missile defense. If I had been appointed in that way, I would not only represent Alabama interests, but I would also have a functional mission for all missile defense," Rogers said. "At that time, there were issues in missile defense involving fielding and testing. It was proposed that as a civilian aide in north Alabama, that I would be an ombudsman for missile defense issues."
That proposal never became reality. But a retirement soon gave Rogers the opportunity to step into the role of CASA for Alabama. Though eager to accept the responsibility of being Alabama's CASA, the needs for representing numerous Army interests in the state soon became daunting for a man who wants to give himself 100 percent to a job.
"I quickly realized that Alabama is a big state," said Rogers, smiling. "I tried to stay engaged with south Alabama, but I had not been active at Fort Rucker and the demands in north Alabama, where I live, made it hard to visit Fort Rucker as often as I wanted to so that I could be in sync with their needs. Now we have a CASA for Alabama-South and Alabama-North."
Mack Dove is the CASA for south Alabama. Although Rogers and Dove have divided the state, both serves as the state's CASA in the Birmingham area.
"Depending on our schedules, activities and interests, we decide between ourselves who should be involved with events in Birmingham," Rogers said.
CASAs represent each state and the District of Columbia, American Samoa, Guam, Northern Marianas Islands, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Most have only one CASA representative. But Texas has three and New York, Alabama and Virginia each have two. CASAs meet together twice a year, with one of those meetings serving as the organization's annual meeting.
There are 80 CASAs, and most are business or civic leaders who bring to their position an interest in the Army. They do not have to be of military background.
"Our makeup as a group includes everything from Hollywood actors to famous governors to businessmen. There are publishers, lawyers and stockbrokers," Rogers said. "The mix creates an interesting discussion and dialogue because we have all points of view. There is no true common denominator for selection other than a strong public commitment to the Army and the Soldier."
Besides the annual spring conference, CASAs gather together in the fall at the annual meeting of the Association of the U.S. Army.
Rogers' work as north Alabama's CASA involves several Army-related activities.
"I report to the Secretary of the Army about the Army and community activities I support in north Alabama. I also keep him informed on issues of relevancy in the community as they relate to the Army," he said.
"I stay connected to the Army. Redstone Arsenal is my serving command. I'm invited to all the ceremonial activities, retirements, promotions and luncheons related to the Arsenal."
Rogers enjoys representing the Army in the community, and particularly with ROTC programs at Alabama A&M and the University of North Alabama, his alma mater. He enjoys talking to groups about the Army and his experiences as both a Soldier and a CASA volunteer.
"In my position, I've been asked to talk 'boots on the ground' as part of recruiting. I've been asked to give speeches about the Army and its needs and issues, and talk with community influencers. I've been asked to stay connected with chemical demilitarization activities in Anniston," Rogers said. "And all CASAs are involved in the Army's wounded warrior program. I also get notifications of the loss of Soldiers and I attempt to always represent the secretary at Soldier funerals."
Rogers is also active with the Association of the U.S. Army, currently serving at the Region Three president for AUSA.
"As a uniform officer, you can't lobby Congress," he said. "But as a civilian AUSA member you can be the voice of Army issues in Congress. We support the Soldiers and lobby for things like military pay raises and health-care related issues. One of my mission activities as a CASA is to speak for the Army, so my involvement with AUSA fits right in with that mission."
Each CASA molds their role and responsibilities to fit the needs in their state as they pertain to the Army. One duty Rogers took on was the creation of the CASA seal, which his son Scott, who served as a photojournalist during Operation Desert Storm, designed before his untimely death in a car accident.
"We have a lot of freedom to make it what we want it to be," Rogers said. "We have some CASAs who have a real strong involvement in certain areas, like marksman activities or ROTC activities. Some CASAs are well-connected politically to elected officials. Everybody has their own predisposition of what they want to do based on their own background and ideas.
"In north Alabama we had never had a civilian aide from Huntsville. So in some respects it was a big deal when I was appointed to serve as a CASA for Alabama-North. This job is a labor of the heart. It's an opportunity to stay connected to the military. The military is a profession of Americans who are very noble and selfless in character, and I am very proud to be associated with that."