Fifty Civilian Aides to the Secretary of the Army rubbed elbows with Soldiers and leaders of Fort Jackson and the Midlands during the 2019 CASA Conference May 20-24.

These civilian aides, often referred to as CASAs, are business and community leaders appointed to advise and work with local military leaders to bridge the gap between Army and civilian communities. CASAs also assist with Army recruiting efforts and advise the Secretary of the Army on public sentiments towards the Army.

"A lot of my focus is going to be opening the door for recruiting," said Bud Martin, the CASA from North Carolina. "We talked about today in a lot of the meetings we had. In the end it's all about recruiting, recruiting, recruiting."

Martin added the visit to Fort Jackson helps them understand more of what goes on during training so they can paint an accurate picture for those who are looking to join the service.

"We think we ought to be able to at least present that to the young people and let them decide," he added.

"I think we gave every one of the civilian aides to the Secretary of the Army an opportunity that they can take home to their communities and talk to young recruits about what it's like in Basic Combat Training," said Kevin Shwedo, the CASA for South Carolina. Shwedo also leads the state's Department of Motor Vehicles.

"We've got to be able to look America's parents in the eye and say all the training is realistic," Shwedo said. "We are going to prepare (Soldiers). We are never going to send them into harm's way without the world's best training."

Fort Jackson was a unique place for the aides to visit because it runs the entire gamut of active duty, Reserve and National Guard, while also having close ties to recruitment and military entry.
Brig. Gen. Milford H. "Beags" Beagle Jr., post commander, told the CASAs there are two particularly unique aspects of Fort Jackson -- the processing station and the recruiting battalion. "We have a very close connection with our recruiting and our (Military Entry Processing) Station" on the installation, he said.

The CASAs also heard how the Army is connecting with local communities.

"Communities embrace us wherever we are," Beagle said during the conference. The focus is "to remain relevant for tomorrow … we have to be ready for everything;" threats are always changing. Fort Jackson trains more than half the Soldiers entering the Army with tough, realistic training because "it's going to be expected" that Soldiers are prepared for combat.

For the South Carolina National Guard, reaching the community is paramount.

"Being part of something is important to people, that's why it's important for us to connect to our local communities, and we do that by being in 41 of the 46 counties in South Carolina," said Maj. Gen. Van McCarty, the Adjutant General of South Carolina to the group May 20. "We want to continue to be a community based organization."

Maj. Gen. Kenneth Jones, 81st Readiness Division commander, said he found the conference to be a "great venue" to share information about how the Army Reserves "is changing to meet the evolving threat environment," and highlighted "some of the unique challenges warrior-citizens have with sustaining readiness."

Along with briefings from the Guard and Reserve, the conference also included visits to the U.S. Army Drill Sergeant Academy, a Soldier induction ceremony, and BCT graduation.

(Editor's note: Elyssa Vondra, Leslie Ann Sully, 81st Readiness Division, and the South Carolina National Guard contributed to this report.)