SAN ANTONIO, Texas - You may find them involved with taking care of wounded Soldiers. Or working on housing issues outside an Army post. Or you may see them involved with working out complicated training issues with state, county and city officials. Or presenting gold stars to the families of fallen Soldiers. They all have the Army's best interests at heart. But many of these men and women have never served in the military or wear the label of a political party.

They're called Civilian Aides to the Secretary of the Army, or CASAs, special Army ambassadors who interface with Army commanders and the Secretary of the Army on issues affecting their region. This week, CASAs from across the nation gathered in San Antonio for an annual conference to interface with the Secretary on behalf of their states and territories.

According to Ms. Judy Smith, CASA program manager and special assistant to Secretary of the Army Pete Geren, each state and territory has at least one representative.

Additional aides can be added depending upon Army population density and areas of interest to the Army. Currently more than 80 civilian aides serve throughout the nation.

Smith said the term of each aide is two years, with a maximum of five terms or 10 years. She said senior aides can serve six additional years and those with the title "emeritus," retain their appointment for life.

Retired Army Reserve Maj. Gen. John Scully, with more than 32 years of Army service, is a civilian aide representing the state of Illinois who said that, while serving in the military is helpful, it's not necessary or required to have Army service.

"It has to be a person who believes in and supports the American Soldier," said Scully. "And that could be a civilian who has no military background. But I think if you look at the CASA biographies you'll see that most of them have some type of military background."

The epitome of that classic example of a civilian aide is Mr. Louis Stumberg Sr., a San Antonio resident and CASA emeritus for the western U.S., who has spent more than 30 years battling for military issues in San Antonio and throughout Texas.

Co-founder of Patio Foods, creators of the first frozen Mexican dinners, Stumberg has an impressive rAfAsumAfA of community involvement and service.

Chairman of the greater San Antonio Chamber of Commerce, member of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission, president of the Boy Scouts of San Antonio and close to 60 years as a member of the Rotary Club, are just a few examples of community service spanning more than six decades.

But the 85-year-old civilian aide's accomplishments with the Army in San Antonio and throughout Texas may be his most lasting legacy.

For close to 15 years Stumberg worked with civic leaders and Congress to build a new Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio. In April of 1996, the 450-bed state-of-the-art medical center, along with its famed burn center, opened its doors for Soldiers and families members.

Today, Stumberg is still fighting Army issues, this time to stop the encroachment of suburban sprawl and commercial building adjacent to Camp Bullis, a Fort Sam Houston training site expected to double its capacity for training in the next few years.

"Camp Bullis is going to be key to doubling training here - that's why they established it here," said Stumberg. "They've got a place to train that's within 30 minutes of post. Yet it's being impacted by all of the housing construction and night lights from commercial growth.

"The name CASA implies civilian aide to the secretary, but it's really working with the military locally to see what we can do."

Scully agreed that the role of a civilian aide isn't necessarily the idea of forcing someone to do something. "It's suggestions, providing ideas and working with the community to tell the Army story."

On a small island on the Mississippi River in northwest Illinois lies the Army's Rock Island Arsenal, a small installation in the Quad Cities area of Davenport and Bettendorf, Iowa and Moline and Rock Island, Ill. Scully's newest challenge as a civilian aide is working with local and state officials to make room for major expansion in the region.

"Rock Island is a new challenge for me because it's on the Mississippi River and it's about to become the new home and headquarters for First Army. One of the issues there is that there is not sufficient housing for Soldiers who will be staffing the Army headquarters. Working with congressional representatives and the civilian aide from Iowa, we can address these issues. Rock Island is literally on an island, so their growth is limited. It's up to the four cities around it to start new construction. That's the kind of impact the CASA has."

Scully looks at his job as helpful to Soldiers and the Army in two ways: "One, I work with my local recruiting battalion, something I feel every CASA should do. For example, in the Chicago metro area, the recruiting battalion has had a difficult time getting into some of the local public high schools. Working with the local recruiting battalion commander and the local junior ROTC superintendent, we've been able to open some doors for the Army.

"As a CASA, you also have to be able to organize events. For example, right now we're putting together an Armed Forces Week Ball in Chicago and we have Lt.Gen. Sorenson coming from the Army Staff. This is an event where we have corporations actually paying for Soldiers to attend. So half the people in the room will be military. You kind of have to use common sense to reach out to the community."

Both Stumberg and Scully agree that as representatives of the Army, directly assisting the Secretary, it's the little things that often make the biggest difference over a lifetime.

"I opened six ranches where wounded warriors and their families can come and go fishing and hunting," said Stumberg. "One of the highest compliments our people could be paid actually came from one of our staff. One of the cooks who had been hired to prepare the meals for the Soldiers and their families told us he didn't want to be paid for his services. Seeing the faces of the Soldiers and their families was payment enough."

Scully added that sometimes it's the small one-on-one interactions with Soldiers and their families that mean the most. "One other thing the civilian aide does is visit the VA hospitals, the Fisher Houses and military hospitals. We attend the funerals of Soldiers killed in action. The other day I was at the Military Enlistment Processing Command because we were dedicating a room to a Soldier who had been killed in action. His mom and dad were there. His neighbors were there. And I was there as an honored guest. I had the opportunity to chat with his family and express the support and sympathy of Secretary Geren. That message was important to them and I think it's one of those small things we do that sometimes makes the biggest impact."