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Retiring Casey leaves an Army in transition

April 5, 2011
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Army Times, 3 April 2011: Army Chief of Staff Gen. George Casey is handing off a service in transition to his successor, Gen. Martin Dempsey, head of Training and Doctrine Command, when he leaves his post in April.

Casey, 62, ends his 41-year Army career as his service tries to figure out its place as the Iraq and Afghanistan wars wind down and his soldiers get a chance to “breathe again,” he said.

The Army’s top officer has had to juggle fighting two wars while tackling other issues such as budget constraints, fixing a broken acquisitions system, developing the ground combat vehicle and repealing “don’t ask, don’t tell.” Casey addressed these and other issues when he sat down March 22 in his Pentagon office with Army Times for an exclusive interview.

When Casey took the mantle as chief of staff in 2007, he found an Army out of balance, he said.

“We’re so weighed down by our current commitments, we can’t do the things we knew we need to do to prepare for other things and sustain the volunteer forces,” he said.

Those commitments don’t yet include Libya for the Army. President Obama has pledged not to commit ground forces there, but Casey has his eye on the conflict.

“The environment that we’re operating in right now is so fluid. Anybody think we were going to be having a no-fly zone over Libya a month ago?” he asked.

Casey has tried to prepare the Army for the major transition he foresees that Dempsey will have to guide the service through.

Among the obvious changes on the horizon are the implementation of the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” which will likely take place later this year. Casey was asked whether promotion boards would get special guidance.

“We are ultimately going to have to deal with that and give instructions to boards that … sexual orientation should not be a discriminator. I mean, it’s not going to be on any records,” he said.

Another is the push to clarify the role of women in combat. Many women have played combat roles in Iraq and Afghanistan despite a firm policy against assigning women to combat military occupational specialties, Casey acknowledged. “We’re going to open up some additional skills to females. But it’s not going to go into the combat arms right now.”

“One of the things that we’re wrestling with … are the forward support companies. … An infantry battalion’s mission is direct combat, so you couldn’t assign females to an infantry battalion,” he said. “But, I think we should be able to have medics in an infantry battalion even though they’re not performing an infantry task.”

DWELL TIME

Casey also discussed the effect of end-strength cuts on the dwell time for redeployed soldiers. Over the past several years, Casey has worked tirelessly to get soldiers more time at home between deployments. By the end of this year, most soldiers will get two years at home for every year deployed, he said.

The goal, he said, reachable by 2015 or 2016, is a nine-month deployment with 27 months at home to recuperate and train.

“Our forces command has come up with an innovative proposal … You could deploy for nine months and just have three more months at home to train, so your one-to-three would be nine months gone and 27 months at home.”

FORT BRAGG DEATHS

Casey also commented on the mysterious deaths of 12 infants at Fort Bragg, N.C. Since 2007, infants between ages 2 weeks and 8 months have died in post housing. And the Army has no idea why.

An independent investigation of two of the houses — where four babies died — by the Consumer Product Safety Commission didn’t find any conclusive environmental causes for the deaths. Critics have charged that the CPSC did not employ the most reliable tests to reach that conclusion.

And some have speculated that family living conditions may have been a factor. But Casey said, “I don’t know that you can blame the families.”

The Army is stumped, Casey admitted. Asked whether the Army should reach out to some outside independent organization to study the problem, Casey said he would consider that option.

“We’re just as concerned in finding out what the heck is going on down there as anybody else,” he said. “If there is somebody else that has a better capability to do it, it isn’t a bad idea to get them in there.”

BUDGET CUTS

Army officials have seen cuts to defense spending coming for some time, Casey said. They just didn’t expect them to come so soon.

“I feel like we have prepared ourselves mentally for the transition that General Dempsey is going to have to wrestle with,” Casey said. “I feel badly that the slope is down. It’s quicker than I thought, but that’s kind of fiscal realities that the country is dealing with.”

Congress grilled Casey on his service’s struggles to purchase new weapons. An internal investigation found the Army spent $3.3 billion to $3.8 billion since 2004 on programs that eventually were canceled.

Casey said pressure from Congress resulted in his request for an independent study into the service’s acquisition force much like the study on Army contracting that was requested in 2007.

“What they say in the report is our acquisition skills have atrophied over the last two decades, so we’ve got to rebuild the acquisition workforce, and we have to think differently about how we operate,” Casey said.

The poor acquisitions review hasn’t dissuaded the Army chief from pursuing the Army’s Ground Combat Vehicle. Service officials have learned lessons from the canceled Future Combat Systems, he said, such as using a weapons program to drive development of new technologies.

“I think we all agree that that didn’t work out very well,” he said.

The Army needs the Ground Combat Vehicle, though, to provide soldiers an upgrade from the Bradley Fighting Vehicle developed in the 1960s. Casey said he’s confident the GCV program is starting from a good base. He traveled to Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md., on March 18 and said he left impressed by how little damage occurred inside the cabin after a 30-pound TNT charge exploded under the second-row wheel of the double V-hull.

“I believe IEDs are a component of any future battlefield. So that’s the strategy with the Ground Combat Vehicle: use existing technologies, get a base that’s better than the base that we have, and then continue to adjust and adapt,” Casey said.

Casey saw firsthand the toll improvised explosive devices had on his soldiers when he was commander of Multi-National Force-Iraq from 2004 until he took over as Army chief in 2007. Critics ripped Casey for not moving fast enough and flooding Iraq’s cities with U.S. soldiers to provide security, but he sees it a different way.

U.S. soldiers deployed to Iraq during his 2½ years in command laid the foundation to allow Gen. David Petraeus to come in and lead the surge of U.S. forces to turn the corner in Iraq, he said.

“We took the Iraqi army from zip until it was starting to be a competent force, and that’s what had to happen. The strategy all along was to build the Iraqi security forces so they could maintain domestic order and keep al-Qaida out, and that strategy took a lot longer than any of us thought,” he said.

LEADERSHIP

Casey also addressed a recent report on diversity in the Army. On March 1, the Army had 405 general officers on active duty, but only 23 of the them (5.6 percent) are women, and 49 are minorities, or about 12 percent. Does this indicate a diversity problem in the upper ranks?

“I wouldn’t call it a diversity problem,” he said. “I would say that our senior leadership is not as diverse as we would like it to be. And I think one of the things that surprised me is, is how hard it is to change that. And you really do have to start with the people that you bring into the Army, the highly qualified minorities that go to West Point, that get the good ROTC scholarships.”

“One of my parting shots is the superintendent of West Point is coming down to show me how he intends to improve the diversity of his classes there at West Point,” Casey said. “At the last four-star conference, we looked at a construct where each of the four-stars would pick 10 to 12 promising minority colonels that they would mentor and bring along, and I think that will help us.”

WHAT’S NEXT

On June 1, almost 41 years to the day he was commissioned a second lieutenant upon graduating from Georgetown University, Casey will retire from the Army. He has moved out of Quarters 1, the sprawling Fort Myer, Va., house that has been home to the Army chief of staff since 1908. The house is being prepared for Dempsey, who is set to move during the last week in March.

What’s next for Casey? He has nothing lined up and hasn’t done much looking.

“I got to the Pentagon in October of 2001, and I’ve been hard at this war ever since, and I’m ready for at least the summer off.”

 

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