Casey calls for changes in force support

By Heather Graham

Changes within the Army are needed, Army Chief of Staff Gen. George Casey said during a visit to Fort Hood today.

"We need to do things differently," he said. "We need to provide predictability and resources to Soldiers and their Families."

Increased dwell times between deployment, an end-phase plan to eliminate stop loss, an invigorated look at mental health issues and expanded services are being worked to formulate those fundamental changes.

Armywide, the current force of combat veterans is operating within an institution designed for garrison, an antiquated concept after Sept. 11, 2001.

"We are never going back to the pre-9/11 force," Casey told 400 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment Soldiers, most of whom recently returned from Iraq.

Multiple deployments and intense training cycles at home have stretched and stressed Soldiers and their Families, and Casey said he worries about the long-term and cumulative effects repeated deployments have on the overall mental health of the force.

As the Army begins to phase out stop loss later this year, Casey said personnel and educational systems must adapt now to compensate for lower troop levels while continuing to expand dwell time.

The Army met its in-strength goal of 547,000 active-duty Soldiers in January, well ahead of the 2012 goal set when the Grow the Army plan was announced in 2007.

Achieving the growth target has allowed the service to phase out the unpopular practice of stop-lossing Soldiers.
While making the personnel goal will have a positive impact on dwell time, demand on the force is still a driving factor in the length of time between deployments.

"We are at war and the enemy has a vote," Casey told the 3rd ACR troopers.

Currently, troops are experiencing 14-15 months at home between deployments, he said. In 2010, the dwell time should increase to two years and nearly two-and- a-half years between deployments by 2011.

"Demand impacts dwell time," Casey said. "We are looking at the impact of the drawdown in Iraq."

Between deployments, Casey urged Soldiers and leaders to take time to rest and reset.

While most of the training tempo is reliant upon leaders, Casey said Soldiers often have difficulty slowing the pace following a combat rotation.

"We need you to slow the train down," Casey told the Soldiers. "Lighten up a little bit."

Today's Army is one comprised of combat veterans, and the lessons hard-fought and learned in theater are filtering up, the general said.

"We are constantly adapting how we are doing business," he said.

In addition to adapting training and operational practices, the Army is taking an invigorated look into mental health issues faced by Soldiers following repeated deployments.

The focus is on building mental health resilience in the ranks.

The Comprehensive Soldier Fitness Plan, which Casey said should be out in the next six months, intends to raise the level of mental health and fitness to the level of physical fitness within the Army.

"Not everyone who goes into combat gets PTS," Casey said. "Everyone who goes into combat gets stressed."

For most Soldiers, Casey said, the deployments are a growth experience.

"We want to increase the number of people who have positive experiences by building mental health resilience," the Army chief said.
Effectively combating the stigma against seeking mental health is part of mental fitness and resilience.

While there are some signs the stigma has been reduced, there still is work needed, the Army chief said.

Casey said the good news behind the Army's 12,000 identified cases of post-traumatic stress indicate the stigma against seeking mental health services is down.

"The bad news is half of the Army still thinks seeking help is a bad deal," he said.

Ending that sigma is one of many changes Casey is working toward.