Secretary of the Army Pete Geren
Secretary of the Army Pete Geren

WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Aug. 10, 2007) - Secretary of the Army Pete Geren spoke one-on-one about his present and future priorities for the Army this week with Soldiers Media Center reporter Jini Ryan.

<b>SMC:</b> Mr. Secretary, thank you very much for joining us. This is a very difficult time for the Army; there's an on-going war; there are over-arching institutional changes, and the Army is also dealing with some very critical issues like Walter Reed. Why did you take the job to become the secretary of the Army'

<b>Sec. Geren:</b> I've been in the Pentagon six years this month. Over the years I've been here, I've watched Soldiers go off to war and I've watched Families stand in support of them. It's been inspiring to me to see these Soldiers, understand the sacrifices they make and see the Families stand with them. It's a privilege to have this opportunity to work for Soldiers and Families during these challenging times for our Army.

<b>SMC:</b> Sir, half of America's Soldiers are married and there are about 700,000 Army children. The Army is spending about $100 million on Family readiness programs this year. Why are these programs so important'

<b>Sec. Geren:</b> We're fighting an extended conflict with an all-volunteer force for the first time since the Revolutionary War. Our all-volunteer force is truly a national treasure. And, as you noted, half of the Soldiers in our all-volunteer force are married and the health of that all-volunteer force depends on the health of those Families. The chief and I both recognize the importance of doing more to support the Families that are supporting our Soldiers during this critical time.

We've recently extended deployments from 12 to 15 months. We were already asking a lot of our Families and now we're asking even more. In looking to the future we expect it's going to be an era of persistent conflict; this is not an aberration, this is the new normal and if we're going to keep our Families healthy, if we're going to continue to be able to count on those Families to stand with us, we've got to step up and help them with their needs.

We recently did move $100 million into Family support programs. We increased the number of Family support assistants to 1,000 across the force - 700 for the active component and 300 for the Guard and Reserve. We also put more money into child care, youth and recreation programs and other community services. This is just the down payment. The chief and I have a working group focusing on what we need to do to help Families during this challenging time. We're going to look at expanding these services. Over the next couple of months we'll be coming forward with the recommendations that came out of that working group.

<b>SMC:</b> Many Soldiers are coming back from Iraq with injuries. Where does the Army stand right now on initiatives to improve medical care for Soldiers'

<b>Sec. Geren:</b> The Army has made great progress over the last several months in improving medical care. Let's put it in perspective, the medical care that our Soldiers get, the advances that we've seen in Army medicine, it's the best health care in the world. You look at the survival rate of people who are wounded on the battlefield today. Over 90 percent survive - that's a radical improvement over any conflicts in the past. Army medicine is the best in the world when it comes to care for traumatic injuries, but we learned last winter that there were areas where we were not meeting the needs of Soldiers, particularly in the medical hold and medical hold-over area.

Since then, we have done away with the distinctions between active, Guard and Reserve at our installations where we have Soldiers in the medical-hold population. They're all in warrior transition units, being treated like Soldiers rather than patients. Every Soldier has a primary care manager, a nurse that's a care manager and a squad leader, who understands what the Soldier and can work the Soldier through the system.

At every one of our installations where we have a medical-hold population we have created Soldiers and Family Assistance Centers to meet the needs of the Soldiers and Families coming to the area to support their Soldier during this difficult time.

And, we are putting up more resources. We're trying to hire more personnel in the medical care area. We recently put out a contract to hire 300 more mental-health professionals and we're increasing the resources we have available. We do have many Soldiers who are coming back with terrible injuries. We have Soldiers who are surviving injuries who never would have survived in the past. They've got considerable needs that could last for a very long time, and we as an Army - and as a nation - need to be prepared to step up and meet those needs.

<b>SMC:</b> Part of the initiatives to help improve medical care for Soldiers is the chain teaching program for post traumatic stress disorder and mild traumatic brain injury. Why this method, and are Soldiers really safe coming forward asking for help or will they suffer repercussions to their rank or by their command'

<b>Sec. Geren:</b> Let me start with your last question. Soldiers are coming forward. We hope more will and it will not impact negatively on their careers or in their opportunities to serve in the United States Army. That's a strong commitment from all the leadership of the Army. But why now' In this conflict, with the type of weapon that our enemy is using - largely explosives, IEDs and other types of explosives - we're having a higher incidence of traumatic brain injury of varying degrees and we're also having a high incidence of post traumatic stress disorder. Is that new to this conflict' No it's not; it's gone by different names over history: shell shock, battle fatigue, but it is a recognized psychological condition.

Post traumatic stress disorder and mild traumatic brain injury are two of the signature wounds from this conflict. We now know more about both of those challenges than we did in the past. We recognize that we need to learn more than we know currently. We're putting extraordinary resources into it.

Congress has given us more than $900 million in the recent supplemental to invest in this area. We are going to create a center of excellence for traumatic brain injury and post traumatic stress disorder. The chain teach program we recently launched will help Soldiers understand how to deal with the symptoms, how to spot the symptoms and encourage Soldiers to seek early treatment. We're also teaching their Family members so they will be in a position to spot the symptoms and help their Soldiers deal with these issues. Early detection and treatment is critically important for both TBI and post traumatic stress disorder.

<b>SMC:</b> One of the things that is causing a lot of injuries to Soldiers in the war zone are the IEDs. The Army has made it a top priority, spending almost $9 billion on getting the mine-resistant armored vehicles out to the field. Where does the Army stand on that right now'

<b>Sec. Geren:</b> Our commitment is to get as many MRAPs to the field as fast as we can. The Department of Defense has committed to spending close to $9 billion. The current purchase plan is to buy about 8,000 mine-resistant armored vehicles. What's the final number going to be' We don't know at this time. We're pressing the industrial base to produce as many as they can, as fast as they can. Out of those nearly 8,000, the Army will receive around 4,000 on this initial buy and we're continuing to explore ways to expand the industrial base.

<b>SMC:</b> As you go out to the field to meet Soldiers and their Families, what are some of the key messages that you want to leave with them about you as a person and your role as the Secretary of the Army'

<b>Sec. Geren:</b> Our top priority is the Soldier in the field. We have about 150,000 Soldiers in harm's way as we sit here today and we can never take our eye off that ball - that is our top priority. We must do everything we can to make sure that they have what they need when they need it. They're the best led, best trained, best equipped Soldiers we've ever put in the field, and we in Army leadership must stay on our toes. Part of our support to those Soldiers is support to those Families that stand behind those Soldiers. Half of all of our Soldiers are married, half of them have Families and there are more than 700,000 children who are part of our Army Family today. We've got to do more to support those Families, more to support those children, deal with child-care issues, education, housing. Our Families stand behind the best Army in the world and we have got to make sure they have the best that we can offer them.

We also need to continue to push modernization efforts. There's a tendency in the middle of a war to focus just on the needs of the war and not think about what is over the horizon. We can't afford to not think about what's over the horizon. The decisions we make today will influence the kind of Army we put in the field 20 years from now. It takes a long time to change the direction of an organization as big as the Army. The modernization dollars we invest today will ensure the Army 20 years from now is going to be equipped, trained and led as it should be.

I want Soldiers and their Families to remember our top priority is the 150,000 Soldiers in combat, many who just came home, many who are getting prepared to go. They are our top priority and the Families that stand behind them. We're going to do everything we can to support them during these very challenging times.

<b>SMC:</b> Mr. Secretary, thank you for joining us.

Page last updated Fri August 10th, 2007 at 14:20