Casey:  Current Tempo Unsustainable

General George Casey

General George Casey, speaking tonight at the Atlantic Council, clarified his widely quoted remarks that “we’re going to have 10 Army and Marine units deployed for a decade in Iraq and Afghanistan,” insisting that he was not making policy but doing his job to “organize, train, and equip” the force for possible contingences. 

Indeed, he noted, his force rotation plan depends on getting out of Iraq by 2012.

In response to a question from Council president and CEO Fred Kempe, Casey noted that we had over 13,000 new cases of post-traumatic stress in the Army in 2008.  While this is obviously a bad thing, the Chief of Staff noted that it also indicates that the Army has done a good job of destigmatizing the disorder and getting soldiers to come forward for treatment sooner. 

Additionally, the Army is standing up a Comprehensive Soldier Fitness program which will train soldiers in “mental resilience,” helping them acquire necessary coping skills.   Casey noted that “while all soldiers who go to combat feel stress,” the overwhelming number of them come out of it as stronger individuals for having met enormous difficulties successfully.  The challenge, then, is to make that true for the rest of the force.

In the longer term, the general stated, the Army is working to adopt a regular rotational cycle such as those already in place in the Navy and Marine Corps.   Having soldiers spend a year in the combat zone, come home for a year, and then go back a year later is “unsustainable in the long term.”  The goal is to have a “one year in, two years out” rotation “by 2011” and ultimately a “one year in, three years out” system.  The latter, Casey asserted, “can be sustained indefinitely.”

Casey added that the weakest point in the system is not the soldier but their families.  In a force where 60 percent are married, taking care of families is more vital than ever.  Because of the current operations tempo, “families are the most stressed part of the force.”  By instituting a predictable pattern that has the soldier at home with his family for three years for every year of deployment, Casey believes most of the current problems will be solved.

James Joyner is managing editor of the Atlantic Council.

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