May 7, 2009
Soldiers' families can look forward to their warriors being home for longer periods between deployments, maybe, hopefully, in a few more years.
Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. George W. Casey Jr. visited Fort Carson on Thursday.
He met with soldiers' spouses to hear their concerns, and said his top priority is to give troops more time at home to bring balance back to the force. His goal is nine-month deployments sandwiched between two years at home.
But there's no hope to achieve that, he said, until the troop drawdown in Iraq begins in 12 to 18 months, and even then only if the situations in Afghanistan and Pakistan don't demand more troops than are already accounted for.
Casey didn't mince words. He said the Army is out of balance, deployments are too long and too often, and that seven years of war have taken a toll on soldiers and families.
On the plus side of the ledger, Army recruiting numbers have been strong, said several Army sources, helped along by a rotten economy. Coupled with fewer troops in Iraq, this should spell relief unless world events dictate otherwise.
"If we execute the drawdown as planned, we'll be in a better position," Casey said.
Casey's visit to Colorado Springs came on the heels of Secretary of the Army Pete Geren's visit on Tuesday, and both men were singing out of the same hymn book. They were eager to talk about mental health issues such as post-traumatic stress syndrome, familial stress, and reducing the stigma of soldiers seeking help. Judging by the words of the top brass, the Army really, really wants Americans to know it cares about mental health.
Since the Army can't promise less frequent deployments to fatigued troops in the near term, it continues to beef up its programs to help soldiers deal with so much time in combat zones. Casey concentrated on the concept of resilience, and he said that combat can actually be a growth experience for most soldiers.
"There's a common misconception," he said. "A lot of people think everyone that goes to combat gets post-traumatic stress syndrome." Not true, said Casey. All soldiers are stressed, but most succeed in difficult circumstances and it makes them stronger.
Casey thinks resilience is a skill that can be taught to soldiers, and he likened this mental training to building muscles. The Army now sees soldiers more comprehensively, he said, with mental fitness just as valued as physical fitness. His strategy is to aim more training at the space between soldiers' ears.
"We're having to do some things fundamentally differently to get after that," Casey said.
Call the writer at 636-0226.