By LTC Gary KolbJanuary 25, 2008
General George W. Casey, Jr.
Chief of Staff of the Army
Stars & Stripes
15 December 2007
General Casey: I was going to talk to some reporters. You're from Stars and Stripes, which is the newspaper that we sent out to the U.S. soldiers overseas.
Question: What's it like being back here' I think this is the first time you've really been back to where you were born. What has the experience been, coming back to Japan'
General Casey: I've been to Japan several times, but I've never been to Sendai. General Oriki and the Japanese Ground Self Defense Forces did a wonderful job of researching and going back and finding out where on Camp Sendai, which used to be called Camp Shimofinik, I was born. And they just took me by a chapel that was built here in 1947 which I'm sure that my parents went to church in, and then by the place where the hospital was, the 172nd Station hospital was. It's now an Army barracks for the Eastern Army. But I've been thinking about this for months, since General Ariki first invited me. My mother told me to get a lot of pictures.
I think it's indicative of how close and important the relationship between the United States and Japan is, and the fact that my father served here in the late '40s and I'm back here now looking at a major exercise with the U.S. Corps and the Japanese Self Defense Forces operating together I think is just another indicator of the depth of the relationship.
Question: If I can just talk a little bit with you about the current state of affairs with Iraq, Afghanistan, the global war on terrorism.
General Casey: That's kind of a broad question. [Laughter].
Question: A little. [Laughter].
Many soldiers right now are working on their second, third, some even fourth deployments. After six years of war what sort of effects have you noticed on the troops, their families, and on the Army as a whole'
General Casey: That's a great question. I've been in this job now for eight months. In the first four or five months my wife and I traveled all over the Army. We were in Japan, Korea, Germany, all over the United States. One of the things I did see was the cumulative effect of almost seven years of war on our soldiers, our leaders, our families, and really on our institutions and our systems. A good example of the stress that has put on us was Walter Reed. When you have five years' worth of casualties coming into an arcane disability and evaluation system, it just backed up until it broke. Unfortunately, there are a lot of those kinds of things happening all over the Army.
We're on a track to come down from the 20 brigades that were in Iraq by July. And that's important because the surge sucked all the flexibility out of our system. So we'll gradually start building back, first we'll come off of the 15 months policy for boots on the ground. I'm not sure exactly when, but we'll be able to come off that and then we'll gradually start building up more time at home for our soldiers. I think that will help substantially in reducing the overall stress of the repeated operations.
The last thing we're doing, and my wife and I saw this in spades, is that the families were the most stressed part of the force. So we have made great efforts here to increase what we're doing for families. I think you probably have read or heard about the Family Covenant that we issued to highlight the strong partnership between the leadership of the Army and Army families, and we have put our money where our month is. There is $1.4 billion in this year's budget for soldiers and families. That's about twice what we put in previously.
Question: What are some of the things that you've noticed working with soldiers and marines fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan' Is there an emphasis put on better training for a cultural understanding'
General Casey: Absolutely. We have come light years with our training on the cultural side. I've visited each of the combat training centers in the United States since I've been back because I wanted to see how we were doing and how well we were replicating the environments we were sending our soldiers into. I must say, I was a little skeptical going into it, but I was very pleasantly surprised with how well we're doing in training in general and the improvements we've made on the cultural side.
The other thing that's helping us is as soldiers are going back for the second and third time they are more and more culturally aware.
This is another good opportunity for us here, training with the Japanese and having our soldiers and our leaders understand the effect of operating in an Asian society.
Question: You told Congress on September 27th that the Army's been stretched thin by the war in Iraq and that it can't adequately respond [inaudible] under conflict. It was a pretty strong warning, I guess, from a military leader that we see deployments kind of deterring our ability to combat future aggression. What sort of things have been done to help strengthen the Army and I guess improve their ability to launch an attack against another aggressor'
General Casey: What I said was we couldn't respond as rapidly as we would like. What I've been saying publicly really since August is that the United States Army is out of balance. Out of balance isn't hollow, it's not broken. You can look around here and you can see the quality of this force. But we're consuming our readiness as fast as we're building it, so we're not able to build depth for other things, and we're running the all volunteer force at a pace that's not sustainable.
So what has to happen is we have to increase our size, and we're doing that, and the demand needs to stabilize. I think that will happen here over the coming months. But it will take us three or four years to put ourselves back in balance and it will take the continued support of Congress and the American people to make sure we get the resources we need to do that.
Question: How concerned are you about the threat of terrorists acquiring weapons of mass destruction'
General Casey: That's the thing that keeps me up at night. I worry about that. I know from my time in Iraq that there are terrorist organizations like al-Qaida actively seeking weapons of mass destruction. And there is no doubt in my mind that if they get one they will use it against a developed society. As I said, that does keep me up at night.
Question: Is the Army planning on phasing out stop loss any time in the near future, or is the focus still keeping soldiers on the ground in Iraq and maintaining current troop levels'
General Casey: We plan to gradually phase out our reliance on stop loss. That is something we will come off gradually. But as I said, it will be some months before we're able to start doing that because we're right now, the surge has sucked all the flex out of the system, so we'll gradually come down.
I think there's a false impression that everybody's stop loss. There are only about 6,000 or 7,000 active duty folks that are stop loss at any one time, so it's not a huge number. But we recognize that it's something we need to gradually come off of, but it will take I would say another 12 to 18 months before we're able to start to do that.
Question: There was a hearing this past week in Congress where they talked about suicide rates among the veterans as opposed to civilians. They said the number was about twice as high. It's becoming clear that some soldiers are returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, struggling to deal with some of their wartime experiences.
What's the Army doing to help assess troops once they return from war'
General Casey: We've done a couple of things. First of all in July we instituted a chain teaching program on Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and traumatic brain injury. The purpose of that -- That meant every soldier would be taught about it by his chain of command. There was a comprehensive packet that we put together that the soldiers were taught from.
The purpose of that was two-fold. One was to educate the soldiers and the leaders about it. And the fact of the matter is, if you diagnose it and treat it, it's very recoverable, except for some of the more severe cases.
Second, is to reduce the stigma. We treat Post Traumatic Stress and traumatic brain injuries as injuries because that's what they are. We have to reduce the stigma so we get the treatment and so the people can recover fully.
The other thing we're doing is earlier last year we instituted a post deployment health reassessment. We were doing assessments at about 90 days after they got back but what we were finding was that some of the symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress didn't exhibit themselves until about six months or so after they get back. So we're doing a reassessment. That's helping us identify more.
We've had, I think, since September 11th about 12,000 soldiers identified and treated for Post Traumatic Stress and traumatic brain injury.
Question: Thank you very much for your time. We really appreciate it.
General Casey: Would you like to ask General Ariki anything' He's the head of the Japanese Ground Self Defense forces.
Question: How has it been working with the exercises this year, sir' What are some of the benefits that the Japanese Defense Force gets working with the Americans each year'
General Oriki: We have 25 years of experience doing the Yama Sakura exercises together with the U.S. forces. As General Casey said, the training level of this exercise of the Ground Self Defense Forces highly increased I think. That contains a lot of events in the training matters, in the [inaudible] exercise.
For the Ground Self Defense Force, the core level exercise is very important for us too. We can have much more increase in [inaudible] the contents of the exercise together.
I believe the exercise went very good and much more than that, we will successfully get [inaudible] Christmas present to General Casey [inaudible]. [Laughter].
General Casey: Thank you very much.