Oct. 25, 2010 -- AUSA Family Forum remarks
October 27, 2010
General Casey: Thank you dear (Mrs. Casey) for that "warm" introduction. If you speak following your two bosses, I am not sure there's anything left to say. (Laughter). It's great to be here with you. This is our third Family Forum. What I'd like to do today is talk to you broadly about the context that I receive over the years so that you have a context about what's going on with Family programs. And, I'll talk to you a little bit about what you're hearing about the budget. Then, we will have our third annual vote on how we're doing on the Army Family Covenant. Some of you may remember last year, I'll say the thing and you'll go "boo" (gesturing to a low point), "ehhh" (gesturing to a mid point) or "yay" (gesturing to a high point). And it can be accompanied by thumbs up or thumbs down. We'll do that at the end to get your sense because I am not going to stand up here and tell you all the great things we've done with the Army Family Covenant. I need to understand how it's impacting on your life.
So where does this begin' I am an Army brat. I've been a member of the Army family for 62 years. And I know some of you are saying, "you don't look a day over 70." But, as I was growing up, we moved around with the Army. Some of you may have seen the movie, We Were Soldiers Once and Young where they had the family of five kids in the big Country Squire station wagon driving across the country. That was the Casey's. My mom's motto while we went through all of that was, "make the best of it." Make the best of it - that was it. It was not hey Mom; this doesn't have sheets on it. Make the best of it; then have a nice day.
And what became clear to Sheila and I as we traveled around the Army when we first got here was, one, the stress that families were under. And, this was back in April of 2007. And two, everything we were asking of families. We couldn't just keep asking families to "make the best of it." We had to do more. We immediately made it our mission to put family support assistance - paid family support assistance - a priority. We doubled the amount of money that we're putting toward Soldier and Family programs...doubled it. Just like that; 1.7 billion dollars. We intend to sustain that - and we will sustain that - over the course of the programs for five years. We are committed to delivering. Let me put that in perspective for you. I was flying someplace and watching CNN. Remember the big floods they had in Nashville' They were saying the whole town flooded with probably 175,000 to 200,000 people in Nashville. And, they said estimates are that it is going to take 1.1 billion dollars to repair this whole city. So 1.7 billion dollars is a pretty good chunk of change and we are committed to keeping the family programs.
Now I need some help here. Because any time you double the amount of money you put towards something, you get things done fast, but you don't necessarily get them done efficiently. We recognize there are some efficiencies that we've gained in the family program - not to be put somewhere else in the Army - but to put into better family programs. We started doing that. The feedback I was getting was, "here it comes, as soon as the money got tight, they pulled the plug." So I said stop. I said leave it alone for a couple of years. But I need some help on feedback on programs that you think are redundant and we could stop doing this, and put money into the programs that we really need. So I would ask you to think about that as we go forward.
Now, a little bit about the future. I think you know that since 2007, we have been working very hard to get ourselves back into a better position. I call it "Get ourselves back in balance." What we meant by that is: a position where we are actually deploying at a sustainable level. And we think in the near term that a sustainable level is two years at home between deployments. And in the long term, three years at home between deployments for the active forces, four years and five years respectively for the Guard and Reserves. We did a study last year that told us what we intuitively knew, that it takes 24-36 months to recover from a one year combat deployment. It just does. Even though some of us have big chests, there is no "S" on it. Everybody needs that time to recover. And when you turn faster than that, as we have been doing, the cumulative effects build up faster. And so, we have been working very hard to get us to the point where we have at least two years at home. And I can tell you, with the growth of the Army, which we actually finished last year.
It was originally not going to be finished until 2012. We started out at forums like this and I would tell folks, "when we get bigger, we won't have to deploy as much - and it's going to be done by 2012." And they'd look at me like you're looking at me. With Secretary Gates' help, we accelerated that to 2010 and actually got it done by 2009. But even as we were finishing, it was clear that because we had so many Soldiers that were temporary non-deployable, in broad transition units, running towards transition units, or already deployed outside of their units we were still having difficulty manning units fully to go to Iraq or Afghanistan. So, Secretary Gates allowed us to grow another by another 22,000 Soldiers. And that's had a huge impact on our ability to increase the time home.
The other big thing that obviously happened was the draw down in Iraq. Between those two things, we're able to look out at this time next year - when we start fiscal year 2012 - when units deploy, they should be able to expect two years at home for the active force, four years at home for the Guard and Reserves. (Applause). Now, since I know you are all veterans here, that's based on what we know today. It was interesting when my son was coming home, I said to Sheila and his wife, "look, he's going to be home the 4th or 5th of October." She said, "No, he's not. He's going to be home when he gets home." And they wouldn't accept anything other than, "I'm on the way home from the airport." But anyway, it's a huge difference from where we were in 2007 and a very necessary difference.
Now, the challenge I think we are all going to wrestle with here is: "Okay, we're going to be home for two years. What do we do now'" Candidly, a lot of folks I am sure have been not dealing with some things that they need to get at because they did not want to mess with it with only 12 months at home. Plus, we're going to have to continue to train to maintain our combat edge. I think hopefully we can be smart at that. The other thing we have to do is reconstitute ourselves. There are some things that we just haven't had time to do over the last seven years. We hear a lot of talk about getting young leaders to understand their way around garrisons back home. We have some training skills we have to recalibrate, some administrative skills we have to recalibrate, and all of those things will be going on.
Probably the most important thing we're focused on doing is building resilience for the long haul. And I think we all have to think about that as we start getting more and more time at home. Its been said already that we are in our tenth year of war. And the reality is this is likely to go on for a while longer. And so, we have to strengthen ourselves - Soldiers, families and civilians - to deal with the continuing impacts of the war. When you think about it: 4100 Soldiers have lost their lives; leaving more than 20,000 surviving family members; 28,000 have been wounded; 7500 of those seriously enough to require long term care. We can never forget the sacrifices of those folks, as we go forward here. We have every intention of following through on that as we go forward. I can tell you we will remain focused on families and Soldiers as we go forward into this next several years, and I don't think we'll treat it with just a sigh of relief, "Boy am I glad that's over." It's not. And we have to continue to sustain what we're doing and build on it.
Now, before I go, on to the assessment of the Army Family Covenant. A quick question: How many of the Family members here have gone online and taken the Comprehensive Soldier Fitness Assessment' Raise your hand. (show of hands) Okay. Thanks. How many of you have stayed online and done one of the modules that accompanied those' (show of hands) Okay, thank you. I'd encourage the rest of you, if you haven't taken it, to take it. It takes about 20 minutes and there's a special one for families and one for Soldiers. But it will give you an assessment of where your strengths lie in the five key areas of fitness: physical, emotional, social, spiritual and family. Those modules will help you build some strength in the areas that you're not as strong in. And you can do all that in the privacy of your own home. I'd encourage you to do that. Are there any Master Resilience Trainers in here' (show of hands) Great. Master Resilience Trainers are being trained across the Army - Soldiers, families and civilians - to help others understand the value and benefits of this program. Just so you know, over 830,000 people have taken this assessment online. I don't know that there's any other behavioral health survey that has ever had that level of participation. Right now, we have about 2200 Master Resilience Trainers trained, and about 500,000 of the modules have been taken. So we need to build a little momentum on this. I think the Master Resilience Trainers are key to helping us expand this. But I think that program, more than any other thing, can help give us some of the resilience and strength we are going to need for the years ahead.
What you've all been waiting for: the Third Annual Survey of the Army Family Covenant. Again, your answers are "yay", "ehhh", "boo". Ready' The first element of the Family Covenant is standardized family programs across installations. How are we doing' (Audience response). That's better than last year. So lets write this down - it's between an "ehhh" and a "yay"' Leaning more towards an "ehh". Alright everyone knows about Army OneSource' (Audience applauds) That sounds a little better. Family support systems' Everyone okay with that' (Audience applauds). Respite care for exceptional family members' (Audience responds). More to do there' Twenty four million dollars went towards that program. But, we have more to do there. Next, access to quality health care' (Mixed audience reaction). Slightly better than last year. Is it access or quality' (Audience responds). So there is more work to be done on access and quality of health care. Do you know many million people are seen in military healthcare facilities over the course of a year' Twenty million. Okay, number three: improving Soldier and Family housing' (Audience response). So housing, it is kind of "ehh" to "yay". Alright. Number four: ensuring excellence in schools, youth services and childcare' (Audience response).
Audience member: High schools closest to posts are the most run down. We have to live way away from posts to get our children in good schools with college prep and AP and beyond.
General Casey: As I go around I get a real mixed bag of the schools that are close to military installations. And I know we've been working very hard locally. We've put in over 140 school liaison officers. I think the problem gets down to funding. It's state funding. It's not military funding. We'll work very closely with state and local governments to try to keep pushing it up.
What about child care' (Audience responds). Boo. One thumbs up and boos. Just so you know, we put up about 128 child development centers and 24 youth centers with magnificent child care facilities. So, we'll put child care and youth services up as an "ehh" to "boo".
Okay, we can hardly wait for the last one: expanding education and employment opportunities for family members. (Audience applauds). Thank you. That's a pleasant surprise. I know there's been a lot of work going on there. Some of you may have seen they had to change MyCAA. That didn't make some people happy. But, as is the case with every entitlement, we have to be able to deliver on it once we put it out. The first program we put out there wasn't sustainable over the long haul. It's better to be consistent over a smaller portion of the population. We will keep working on this. As Sheila said, we think we've made progress, but you never stop. And your feedback is very important. I got some great feedback in Italy. I talked with some family members about the increased difficulty OCONUS for family members, particularly on the working side. The only way we can fix things is to keep shining a spotlight on it. You are our individual flashlights out there. So thank you very much.
I will tell you, as long as I am here - and I know Secretary McHugh is going to carry on after Sheila and I are gone - we will maintain our commitment to our Army Families. You are the strength that underpins us as strength to the Nation. Thank you very much.