Dec. 4, 2007 - Remarks at Brookings Institution
January 25, 2008
THE BROOKINGS INSTITUTION
MAINTAINING QUALITY IN THE FORCE:
A BRIEFING BY GENERAL GEORGE W. CASEY, JR.
Washington, D.C.Tuesday, December 4, 2007
GENERAL GEORGE WILLIAM CASEY, JR.
Chief of Staff
United States Army
The Brookings Institution
PETER W. SINGER
Senior Fellow and Director, 21st Century Defense Initiative
The Brookings Institution
* * * * *
MR. TALBOTT: Good morning, everybody. I'm Strobe Talbott of the Brookings Institution. I want to welcome all of you here today for a discussion that's taking place under the auspices of our 21st Century Defense Initiative. This was launched a year ago
under the leadership of Peter Singer, Senior Fellow in our Foreign Policy Studies Program. The goal of the initiative is to explore changes in warfare, the impact of those changes on U.S. security policy, and the ramifications over the long term for the defense of the United States. Over the course of the past 12 months or so, the Initiative has hosted, in all, 20 events, and we've done so in partnership with the
Strategic Studies Institute. A number of our partners in that venture are
here today, and we want to welcome them in particular.
Today's event is part of that series, and when Peter told me about it some time ago and told me who our special guest was going to be, I raised my hand and volunteers and, indeed, pleaded with him to give me a chance to say a few words of introduction.
I'm quite confident that everybody in this room knows a great deal about General George Casey, Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army and of his 37 years of distinguished service to our nation, service that has taken him to Europe, Southeast Asia, the Balkans and, of course, Iraq.
Quite a few people in this room know General Casey personally, and I'm lucky enough to be in that category. In the late 1990s, George and I worked together on an interagency team -- I'd even call it an interagency flying squad since we seemed to spend a lot of time in the air -- working on the issue of the Balkans. That meant working with some extremely reluctant Russians and, in particular, Russian military officers.
It was our assignment to try to keep the Russian federation on board an international effort to bring peace to Bosnia and ethnic cleansing in Kosovo and, crucially, have the Russian military on the ground in Kosovo as part of a U.N.-NATO peacekeeping effort known as K-4. George and I, just before coming in here, were reminiscing a little bit
about some of the experiences of that. We could eat into your time, Peter, and we won't do that, telling war stories or peace stories that almost became war stories. But I'll just say that a couple of the more exciting days in my life were spent in this gentleman's company when such things happened as the Russians accidentally invaded Kosovo, occupied an air base outside the capital of Kosovo, PriA...A!tina, had planes in the air heading towards Kosovo to reinforce their troops there. George played sort of the
opposite of an air traffic controller, trying to make sure that those flights
did not come through.
One of the particularly vivid memories I will have and always have that goes to his qualities as a human being, as a military officer and, I might add, as a diplomat is working with him and his colleague from the Air Force, General Doc Foglesong, with a group of Russian military officers who truly looked as though they would rather be anywhere else on the planet Earth than negotiating with George and our team. They would have rather been in Siberia. They would have rather been in Afghanistan, I think, than working with an American team including uniformed officers on an arrangement that would only work if Russian forces ended up under the command of an American general.
It is hugely to the credit of our guest today that he was able to work out that arrangement and it actually served the nation and peace in the region very well for quite some time. My only regret is that we don't have time or the agenda topic today to talk a little bit about how that situation looks now, but there may be other occasions for that. Who knows'
In any event, the gentleman that I'm about to turn the program over to is a true soldier-diplomat and, I might add, a very, very good friend and traveling companion. He is a model of an officer who is able to combine a commitment to core enduring values and goals with an ability to innovate, and therefore he is just the right military leader for Peter to have invited to speak to us today.
So, George, the microphone is yours and thanks for being with us.
GEN. CASEY: Thank you, Strobe. Thank you very much.
GEN. CASEY: Thank you very much for that kind introduction. You would have made my mother very proud. Good morning, great to be here with you here today. I'd like to set the strategic context for your discussions here that I think are going to take place later this afternoon, and I'd like to talk to you a little bit about the Army, about how I see the future security environment, about how I see future conflict and then close out with what I think we need to do over the next several years to bring the Army back to where it needs to be. So let me move through that here pretty briefly, and then I'll be happy to take your questions.
First of all, let me talk about how I see the Army. I've been in this job for about eight months. When I got to the position, I put together a transition team to help me frame my thoughts, and then I spent the first, oh, four or five months with my wife, traveling all around the Army, all over the world, talking to soldiers and leaders and families, trying to get my own sense of where we were.
Three things resonated with me as I finished up those travels. First, there's no question that the Army is stretched as a result of more than six years at war and, as a result of that stretch, the force and particularly the families are stressed.
I wrestled very hard to find the right word to describe the condition of the Army that was stretched and stressed, and the term I came up with was out of balance, that the Army today is out of balance. We're consumed by the demands of the current operations and, as a result, we're not able to do the things to prepare for the future and to sustain the all-volunteer force.
As I said, I wrestled hard with it. Out of balance isn't hollow. It's not broken. Indeed, the American Army is a very resilient, competent, professional force that is widely seen by the other armies of the world as the best in the world at what it does, but we're not where we need to be. I'll talk a little bit about that in a minute.
The second thing I took away was that my predecessors, Rick Shinseki and Pete Schoomaker, have done a very good job of communicating the need for transformation across the Force. On September 11th, we had a Cold War Army. There's no question about that, and we had been working at transformation since before that. But, frankly, September 11th had an impact on the Force and caused them to crystallize and see the need for change, and Pete Schoomaker has really taken advantage of that.
We are about halfway through the largest organizational change, a little over halfway through the largest organization changes the Army has gone under since World War II as a result of that. But, the soldiers and leaders, they understand the need for transformation. They understand we didn't have the force we needed for the 21st Century, and they understand the need for change.
Third and lastly, what I saw across the Army was the accumulative effects of six years at war. I had spouses stand up at gatherings, larger than this, and say, you know, General, it's not the same running a family readiness group for the second deployment as it was for the first or for the third as it was for the second. Everything is additive, and this has put cumulative pressures on not only our soldiers and families but on our
Unfortunately, what I see more often than I'd like to see is something that happens in large organizations. When they're faced with incremental change, human nature leads you to try to do an increasing mission with the same resources and the same people. Unless you have folks that are on the balls of their feet, that recognize an inflection point, they don't fix something until it breaks. That's kinda what happened at Walter Reed. We've had the similar challenges with our contracting efforts.
So, those three things: We're stretched and stressed, not broken, not hollow; folks understand the need for transformation; and we are, as an institution, suffering from the cumulative effects of six years at war. So we're out of balance.
Now what do I mean by out of balance' We're deploying at unsustainable rates. Several months ago, we increased our deployment -- our boots on the ground time, we call it -- to 15 months. We needed to do that to support the requirements of the commanders, to give our soldiers and families some predictability and, most importantly, to ensure that the soldiers that were deploying had at least 12 months so they could properly
prepare to go.
We did that with a full understanding that it was temporary. We
can't sustain that. We have to come off of that, and we're working that
very hard. I think you can decide that when we decide to come off it,
we're going to be darn sure that we're not going to have to go back. So I
expect an announcement on that here in the next three or four months as
we see what the situation there is on the ground.
The time between deployments is too short, one, for the soldiers to adequately recover and, two, so that they can conduct the full spectrum of training so they're ready to operate across the spectrum of conflict. You'll hear me use this term, spectrum of conflict. What I'm talking about is from peacetime engagement to conventional war and everything in between, and that's what we need to do. We believe we need forces that are versatile and capable enough to operate across the spectrum. Right now, the time at home is only sufficient for them to focus on their counterinsurgency mission because they're going right back to Iraq or Afghanistan.
Our equipment, we're using it at about five times the normal rate. That's not sustainable over time. We have great support from Congress to begin resetting that equipment, but we're using that at an unsustainable rate.
Now, you say we've been at war for six years and we're out of balance. I think, rightfully, you want to ask: Okay, how did you get there' Why are we in this state'
As part of my transition, I had some folks go out, and I said to one team: Go look toward 2020. Go out there and tell me what you think the world looks like at 2020 and what kind of Army we need for that world. I had another group, and I said: Go back 13 years in the other direction. Go back to 1994. Tell me what we were doing in this country in 1994.
Well, guess what' Think back. We were basking in the glow of success in Desert Shield and Desert Storm. We'd won the Cold War. The wall had come down. We were scanning the horizon for a peer competitor, not finding one, and we were cashing the peace dividend as quickly as we could.
Oh, by the way, we were drawing the Army down by 300,000 from 780,000 to 482,000, and not just the Army but the CIA and the United States Agency for International Development, two key agencies we need in what we're doing right now. So some decisions were made a while ago in a time when the future looked fairly peaceful that are impacting on us now.
If I could leave with you one thing, institutionally, things are hard to fix. You don't fix them overnight. Putting us back in balance is going to take three or four years and sustained support from the people, but it's as a result of decisions that were made previously.
So, the Army is out of balance, and we are entering a period of what I call persistent conflict. Now, it may not seem to you day to day, but we are at war against a global extremist network that is out to attack and destroy our way of life. Read their writings. This is not a foe that's going to quit and go home easily. They're going to have to be defeated, and it's a long-term ideological struggle.
Let me talk just a second about what I mean by persistent conflict. I
define persistent conflict, and this is my political science background, I
think, but it's a period of protracted confrontation among state, non-state
and individual actors who are increasingly willing to use violence to
accomplish their political and ideological ends.
As I look to the future, that's what I see for us, and that's the future
that I think we need to prepare for. The trends that I see in the
international security environment are pushing us in the wrong direction.
Let me just give you a couple of examples.
First of all, globalization: There's no question globalization is having
a positive impact on prosperity around the globe. Unfortunately, most of
that prosperity is in the northern part of the globe. If you look at the places
in South America, Africa, the Middle East, South Asia, Southeast Asia,
those benefits aren't being shared equally.
Technology: Technology is another double-edged sword. The
same technology that is empowering people with access to knowledge all
over the world is being used by terrorist groups to export terror around the
Demographics: By 2020, we're expecting the populations of some
of these lesser developed countries to double. By 2030, estimates are
that 60 percent of the world's population is going to live in cities, which
bodes poorly for future conflict.
We expect that the middle classes of China and India are growing
very rapidly, and they're going to increase the pressure for resource
competition. The middle class in India is larger than the population in the
Competition for water, resources and food is going to increase the
international friction. Estimates are that energy supply is not going to
equal demand even if you count in what people are trying to do in the
interim to increase it or look for alternative sources.
Climate change and natural disasters create friction, create tensions
and population movements and pandemics, and the two that worry me the
most are the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their use by
terrorist organizations. People ask what keeps me up late at night. That's
what it is.
I know there are 1,100 or 1,200 known terrorist organizations in the
world. Most of them are out seeking weapons of mass destruction.
There's no question in my mind that when they get it, they'll use it against
a developed country.
Lastly, safe havens: States or territory that is not controlled by
states, either because they can't or they won't, they become breeding
grounds for terrorist organizations much like Afghanistan was before the
So, all those things, you say, okay, Casey, they're out there, but
why is that a concern to us' Go back to what I said about we're at war
with a global extremist network. Those trends help create the conditions
that facilitate recruiting. If you're going to win this long-term struggle,
those trends have to be reversed, and that's not something that we
necessarily can do from a military perspective. As I'll say in a second, it
takes all the elements of national power to move this country forward.
Now, let's talk a little bit about the nature of how I see the nature of
conflict in the 21st Century. What does it look like'
I don't think there's any question that the complexity of future
conflicts is going to be exponentially different than what we've had to deal
with previously, and we're seeing the precursors of that now in Iraq and
Afghanistan. While we can never exclude major state-on-state conflict nor
can we exclude our ability to prepare for that because the consequences
of a loss are so great, my personal view is, in the near term, the likelihood
of major state-on-state conflict is fairly low. That's my personal view.
But let's talk a little bit about future conflict and think back to that
definition of protracted conflict. We're going to be dealing, I think, more
with non-state and individual actors than we are with state actors. That
creates a degree of complexity all itself.
They're not deterrable. If you've figured out how to deter a nonstate
actor that doesn't have anything to hold hostage, I'm happy to listen
to you. They don't operate the laws of war. They don't operate under
international conventions. It makes our job combating that much, much
The second point that adds to complexity is these wars are going to
be fought among rather than around the population. Rupert Smith, a while
ago, wrote a book and talked about war among the people.
As we were thinking our way through this, we said, what's the major
difference between conventional war and the irregular wars that we're
going to be facing here in the 21st Century' The thing that stuck with me
is how you deal with people.
In conventional war, think about it, what do you do' You bypass the
big cities. If you have refugees, you move them out of your way.
That's not what we're doing in Iraq and Afghanistan. We're
operating in the people, and the people are the prize. In conventional war,
it's the defeat of the enemy formation. When you have to operate like
that, it causes you to do some things fundamentally different with how you
collect intelligence and how you apply effects. If you think about an
artillery barrage that could decimate an enemy formation, it doesn't work
in Sadr City, and so there are some things that we have to do
The third element that adds to the degree of complexity is the need
to rely on non-military aspects of power to achieve our success. You've
heard it said, I'm sure, time and again with Iraq and Afghanistan, we're not
going to win this by military means alone. Secretary Gates said a great
speech at the Landon Institute here a week or so ago, and he talked about
the need to strengthen the other elements of power and to give the
country the ability to integrate them. I believe that's exactly where we
need to go.
Third is the asymmetry. Folks aren't going to attack our strength
either in irregular war or conventional war. It's silly to. One of the
fundamentals of war is you put your strength against the enemy's
weakness. So, even conventional war is going to be asymmetric to a
Third, we're going to have to operate with indigenous forces. As we
studied this in Iraq, the history is that no major power has ever won a
counterinsurgency without a capable indigenous partner, none. We have
to put ourselves in a position where our soldiers and leaders are
comfortable operating with these forces with enough cultural
understanding to be able to leverage them to help us accomplish our
Lastly and probably most important for me as I develop the future
leaders of the Army is all this complexity and the ability to deal with all this
complexity is leader-intensive. The young men and women we have
operating as sergeants and lieutenants and captains and majors in
Afghanistan, they understand how to deal with this environment, but it's
something that we have to adapt our leader development processes and
institutions to create these leaders to operate and be successful in this
I would add that character and the character of our leaders has an
awful lot to do with our success, and we've just opened up a Center for
Professional Military Ethics up at the Military Academy. These
environments are so hard that if you're not well morally and ethically
grounded as a leader, your ability to make decisions in this complex
environment is very, very difficult.
Now, when I talk about future conflict, it's easy to say, okay, Iraq,
Afghanistan, got it.
Let's go to Lebanon, the summer of 2006, and let's talk about
Hezbollah for a second. Here, you have a non-state actor, a terrorist
organization, that took on the Israeli army of about 30,000 with a force of
about 3,000 embedded in the population, purposely in a fixed defense that
tied urban areas together, that leveraged asymmetric means, IEDs, for
example, to channelize the conventional forces into ambushes where they
were fired at with anti-tank guided missiles that were first-rate. So the
blending of the asymmetric and the conventional was used to great effect
against the Israeli army.
This is a terrorist organization that started the war with over 13,000
rockets, and they fired over 4,000 rockets in 33 days at Israeli soldiers and
at the Israeli population. They used unmanned aerial vehicles to collect
intelligence and also to attack targets. They fired a sea-launched cruise
missile, and it hit an Israeli corvette. Their command posts were
computerized and with encrypted cell phones, and they used public
television to get their message out. I think that's a good example of an
extremely complex environment that we're likely to see in the 21st
Now, what does that lead us to do in terms of what type of Army are
we trying to build for the future' We have been on this track for a period
of time, and my predecessor, Pete Schoomaker has moved the Army well
down this path, but we're trying to build a campaign quality expeditionary
Army that can support our combatant commanders in the challenges of
the 21st Century across the spectrum of conflict, full spectrum, and that's
a major takeaway that I'd ask to leave with you. I can take more questions
on the specifics related to that in a second.
Let me wrap up here. So, we're out of balance. We're in a near
persistent conflict. We think we have a view of what conflict in the future
is going to look like. But, oh, by the way, the only known, the only thing
we really know about predicting the future is that we usually get it wrong,
and so the forces that we prepare have to be versatile enough, as I said,
to work the full spectrum of conflict.
But to put us back in balance as an Army over the next three or four
years, I say it's going to take four things: We have to sustain our soldiers
and families. We have to continue to prepare our soldiers for success in
the current conflict. We have to reset them when they come back from
war, their equipment, their people and their training. Then we have to
continue our transformation so that we become a force that the nation can
depend on to fight the challenges of the 21st Century. Let me just say a
quick word about each one of those.
I called my predecessor Shy Meyer a while back. Shy Meyer if you
remember was the Chief of Staff of the Army who went to Congress in
1980 and said the Army is hollow. I said Shy, tell me about it. How did
you get there' What happened'
He said, it's all about the people. He said, when you start losing
your midgrade officers and non-commissioned officers, it takes a decade
to bring them back. You think about it. Growing a senior sergeant or a
major takes about eight to ten years. It takes you a decade to bring that
back. He said, you have to keep the good people with you.
Now, it's interesting to me as we've done some research on this,
there are folks that believe that in 1972 when the last combat battalion left
Vietnam that the Army was broken, but it took eight years for the Chief of
Staff to come out and say it's hollow.
One of the other things he left with me is there's a thin red line out
there that you don't know when you cross it until after you've crossed it.
We are now in a position of having to sustain an all-volunteer force in a
protracted confrontation for the first time since the Revolutionary War, and
so we are in uncharted territory. We're measuring all of these things very
carefully, but I gotta tell you, it's a dicey game.
The other piece of the sustaining is we have a very extensive action
plan here to correct the discrepancies that we found with Walter Reed with
respect to the long-term care of our soldiers. We're well on our way to
implementing that, and I can talk about that in the questions and answers
if you'd like.
Secondly, prepare: We made great strides in equipping and training
our soldiers to succeed in Iraq and Afghanistan. We started off with a few
hundred uparmored humvees. There's over 18,000 there now. We're on
the third generation of side protection against the explosively formed
penetrators, and we're moving in vehicles now that are even better
protected against the IED threat.
The individual equipment that the soldier has is first-rate. When I go
around to Iraq and Afghanistan, I grab the soldiers and say, how do you
like your stuff' What else do you need' Except for some people that
want to have an extra gun, they normally say they're okay. So we've
made great strides on this.
Our training at the training centers, I frankly went there right after I got back, to each of our combat training centers to see how we were preparing our folks. I must admit I was a little suspect in it, but I was very pleased with what I saw. Our ability to replicate the environments that they're going to face is great, but our soldiers and leaders need to know that there's not going to be any scrimping on giving them the tools they
need to succeed.
Third, we have to reset them when they come back, and this really is about money. Last year, in 2007, Congress gave us $17 billion to reset the force. That was the first major tranche of money since the war started, and it reversed the downwards spiral, and we were able to commit that and to spend it and we reset 23 brigades over 200,000 pieces of equipment. When you get the funding on time, we can do an awful lot with it. Getting the resources to properly reset the force that has, again, been at war for six years and it looks like it's going to be some time more is the difference between a hollow force and a force that's flexible and adaptable and ready to do other things.
Lastly, transformation: Now, transformation is a journey for us. It's not a destination. As I said, we're about 60 percent through the largest organizational change since World War II. Those organizational changes with our modular units are exactly the type of units and organizations that we need in the 21st Century environment. I saw the power of those formations in Iraq and Afghanistan. We gotta finish it.
I think you know that we're going to grow, that we're going to increase the size of the Army. One of the main reasons we're out of balance is we're too small to do what we're doing and to sustain it over a long period of time. The President has directed us to grow by 74,000, and we intend to do that by about 2010. The long pole in the tent is our ability to recruit -- and we can talk about that afterwards -- but we think we can recruit about 80,000 folks a year in the active force, and that's enough to do what we need to do.
There's a lot we need to do with transformation. I'll just leave one other one with you here, and that's reserve components. We are working very closely with our reserve components because we have changed the paradigm for our use of the reserve components. If you think back before September 11th, they were our strategic reserve. They were organized, resourced and equipped to be mobilized in a grand mobilization to
primarily go to Europe to sustain efforts against assault by the Warsaw Pact.
That clearly is not how we're using them today. We need to figure out how we change the paradigm and how we provide the resources that the Guard and Reserve need to be an operational enhancement to the active force which is how we're using them today. The policies that govern the reserve components in the early fifties after the Korean War, and it's time for change on that.
Lastly and I'll close with this, lots of questions on quality, on the quality of the force. In 2007, almost 300,000 men and women enlisted or reenlisted in the Army, the Army Guard or the Reserve. There are still a lot of very dedicated, committed Americans out there, who are willing to serve their country in a difficult period.
I had the opportunity to pin a Silver Star on one of those Americans when I was in Baghdad in August, Staff Sergeant Kenneth Thomas from Utopia, Texas. He was out with his squad on a patrol on the Tigris River with a group of Iraqi police. They came under attack from one of the banks of the river by about 70 to 100 terrorists. The Iraqi policeman who was manning the machine gun, the major weapon system on the boat, abandoned the weapon. He jumped on the weapon and began returning fire as his rounds bounced off the steel plates that protected the machine gun.
They tried to push down the river, push through them; they couldn't get through. They diverted to the other bank of the river. They got out. They got into a depression. Good news: not taking fire. Bad news: can't get out. The squad leaders turned around, looked at Sergeant Thomas and said, get us out of here.
He charges up the bank of the river. For those of you who have been, the Tigris River at that point is only about 100 yards wide. He charges up the bank of the river only to find that his escape is blocked by a fence.
He stops and takes out his wire cutters under fire and begins cutting the fence. The fence is electric. It knocks him down. He gets back up. He continues cutting the fence while the gloves are melting in his hand. He gets it open wide enough for the squad to get through, pulls the squad through, and the last guy gets hung up. He goes back, knowing he's going to get shocked again, gets knocked down, gets up, and drags
the guy through.
Then he organized the squad, leads an assault on a house so they secure the area and so they can get evacuated, about two hours of combat. That's the type of men and women that you have in your Armed Forces today.
As I was walking up to assume responsibility on the, I think, 10th of April, it struck me that I was getting ready to assume responsibility for an organization that was already seen as the best in the world at what it does, and then I had the temerity to try to make it better. We are that way because of our values, because of our ethos and because of great people like Sergeant Kenneth Thomas.
So, thank you very much for your attention, and I'd be happy to take your questions or your comments.