Army Troops: More Time at Home, More Time to Train

Dwell time for Soldiers between deployments is expected to increase to 17 months next year, and almost to 24 months by 2011, said Army Chief of Staff Gen. George W. Casey Jr. He said this will allow the National Training Center to once again focus on “conventional operations” and not just counter-insurgency training.

Gen. Casey made his remarks during an interview outside the town of Medina Jabal in the National Training Center’s range area, “the box,” during a visit to NTC (Fort Irwin, CA) Aug. 14.

Changing training scenarios

Gen. Casey said that one of the main things he did during his visit was to speak with Brig. Gen. Dana J.H. Pittard, commanding general, National Training Center and Fort Irwin, about adjusting NTC training scenarios.

This adjustment, Casey said, would involve including “major conventional operations training” as well as “irregular warfare training” at NTC over the next couple of years, as Soldiers spend more time at home and not deployed.

“And we’re already starting the planning to reset the scenarios and the OPFOR [opposing force], so that we can do that,” Casey said.

“What I’ve seen now across the Army. We are a combat-seasoned force. Some of the battalions out here-60, 70, 80 percent-combat veterans, Gen. Casey said. “And so they know how to fight. And right now, we’re focused on irregular warfare. And a lot of the skills that they have are directly transferable to…major conventional operations.”

“We won’t flinch on making sure that our Soldiers have the best possible training and equipment to succeed in whatever war we send them into, and that’s what’s happening here every day,” Casey said.

Force stretched

In his first 16 months as chief of staff, Casey said he and his wife have traveled extensively around the Army.

“It is very clear to us that the Families are stretched,” Casey said. “That the whole force is stretched. There’s no denying that. What we’re asking of our Families is far different than anything that I have seen in my career up to now.”

“And I think while the next two years will continue to be hard,” he said “over time we’ll gradually build ourselves out of this.”

Realism at NTC

Gen. Casey – who was in Iraq as recently as July and served as the commander of Multi-National Forces-Iraq between July 2004 and February 2007 – said he was struck by the NTC’s realism.

“And I must admit when I walked down the street the first time, the hair stood up on the back of my neck, because it was so real,” Gen. Casey said. “We’ve made a quantum advance just in the year plus since I’ve been here.”

Force of future
The general said that the Army is building a versatile force that can operate “from peacetime engagements to major conventional operations and every place in between.”

The Army, Gen. Casey said, is “well on our way” to meeting the goal set by President George W. Bush in 2007 to increase the size of the Army by 74,000.

“That will allow us to build more brigades, which means, with more brigades, the ones that we have, go [are deployed] less,” Gen. Casey said.

The conversion of the Army over the last several years to a modular, brigade-based force is now 70 percent complete, Gen. Casey said. By the end of fiscal year 2011, the conversion to these modular units will be 98 percent complete, he said.

“The transformation is a holistic effort,” the general said, “and we’re changing, basically, what was a Cold War Army before September 11th to a versatile, disciplined force that can operate across the spectrum of conflict in countries.”

Training and versatility

Gen. Casey said that the time he spent in Iraq changed his views on the relationship between training and the versatility of the force.

“When I was a divisional commander in Germany in ’99 to 2001, if you had asked me where I should optimize my training on the spectrum of conflict so I could be the most versatile, I would have said, If I can do conventional war, I can do anything.

“After 32 months in Iraq, I don’t believe that…mostly the Soldiers that have been to Iraq and Afghanistan don’t believe that, either. There’s enough difference, some fundamental differences between irregular warfare and major conventional warfare that we need to…be more versatile,” Gen. Casey said.

Funding Family programs

Gen. Casey said that the Army is “put[ting] our money where our mouth is” in terms of providing programs for Soldiers and their Families to improve their quality of life.

The general said that Families were seeking funding and standardization. “First thing they said, ‘Look general, we don’t need a bunch of fancy new programs. You need to standardize the ones you have. Fund the ones you have and standardize them across the installations.'”

The Army recognized the needs of Soldiers and their Families, the general said, by establishing the Army Family Covenant in October 2007. The Army Family Covenant addresses needs relating to healthcare, housing, education and employment.

“We committed ourselves to ratcheting up the level of support that we’re giving to Soldiers and Families,” Casey said. “We doubled the amount of money that we’re putting towards Soldier and Family programs.” The Army spent $1.4 billion on these programs in 2007 and is spending $1.7 billion in 2008, he said.

Message to Soldiers

To Soldiers deployed in Iraq, Afghanistan and around the world, Casey said the following:

“I thank them for their sacrifice and for what they’re doing for this country. They are making a difference at a very critical time in our country’s history. And they are being successful at it.

“And I believe firmly that the efforts we’re making in Iraq and Afghanistan are allowing us to deal with the terrorist threat there and not here. And it’s the men and women of the armed forces that are making that possible, supported by their Families.”

(Robert Abrams is editor of the “High Desert Warrior” newspaper at Fort Irwin, Calif.)

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