Best Defense

Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

Short-timer Casey assesses Army

By Laura DeLucia Best Defense pre-dawn speech correspondent You’ve got to love the U.S. Army. On the day his successor as chief of staff of the Army was announced, General George Casey gave a “state of the Army” address so early that it was still dark outside, which is entirely consistent with the culture of ...

559546_110107_sky-trooper2802.jpg
559546_110107_sky-trooper2802.jpg

By Laura DeLucia
Best Defense pre-dawn speech correspondent

You've got to love the U.S. Army. On the day his successor as chief of staff of the Army was announced, General George Casey gave a "state of the Army" address so early that it was still dark outside, which is entirely consistent with the culture of the Army. (Suck it up and eat your eggs.) The theme of the 0-dark-30 Thursday talk, hosted by the AUSA Institute of Land Warfare, was "Maintaining the Combat Edge." For those of you who lay abed, you need not think yourselves accursed you were not there, because I will tell you what you missed.

Old Casey described three competing imperatives: Maintain the combat edge, reconstitute the force, and build resilience for the long haul. However, he said, the Army recognizes that the most daunting challenge for all three of the Army's near-term objectives may be to accomplish all of the above in "an era of declining resources."

By Laura DeLucia
Best Defense pre-dawn speech correspondent

You’ve got to love the U.S. Army. On the day his successor as chief of staff of the Army was announced, General George Casey gave a “state of the Army” address so early that it was still dark outside, which is entirely consistent with the culture of the Army. (Suck it up and eat your eggs.) The theme of the 0-dark-30 Thursday talk, hosted by the AUSA Institute of Land Warfare, was “Maintaining the Combat Edge.” For those of you who lay abed, you need not think yourselves accursed you were not there, because I will tell you what you missed.

Old Casey described three competing imperatives: Maintain the combat edge, reconstitute the force, and build resilience for the long haul. However, he said, the Army recognizes that the most daunting challenge for all three of the Army’s near-term objectives may be to accomplish all of the above in “an era of declining resources.”

Here are a few of the highlights and surprises:

Increased dwell time: “We’re starting to breathe again”
A Marine Corps staff sergeant once described the feeling of being at war to me as being like drowning, like you can’t breathe. General Casey told the audience with almost a personal sigh of relief that after nearly a decade at war, “we’re starting to breathe again.” Acknowledging that it takes about 24-36 months to recover from a one-year long deployment, the Army has finally made that recovery time possible. Units deploying in fiscal year 2012 can expect a more bearable ratio of 1:1 deployment-to-dwell time to 1:2 for active duty and to 1:4 for National Guard and Reserve. The challenge for General Dempsey will be: How will the Army sustain and sharpen that “combat edge” and make the most of our combat-seasoned veterans as they return to garrison?

Suicides slowing
The good news: General Casey reports that for the first time since 2004, the rate of suicides by active-duty members have slowed. The bad news: Soldiers are still committing suicide, and even one preventable death is too many. As evidenced by the front-page article of the New York Times, the Army still appears to be missing or ignoring troubling signs, like deploying Staff Sgt. David Senft to Afghanistan after he twice attempted suicide on base. The Army hopes that measures like increasing the dwell-time ratio and having almost one million soldiers take the Comprehensive Soldier Fitness Test to assess their mental well-being will serve to remedy this grave problem.

The Cold War is over, really, this time
While heading into the 21st century, the Army is also contending with eradicating the nettlesome final remnants of the Cold War. You read that right: the Cold War, which apparently is something that happened before I was born. Although he devoted only a few sentences to it, General Casey called the process of modularity, or converting the old version of Army brigades into more versatile “modular” ones with smaller battalion- and company-level components, “the largest organizational transformation since World War II.” At an Army installations conference last April, Casey described plans to stand down outdated tank and artillery units and stand up equal numbers of psychological operations, civil affairs, Special Forces, and military police units, while moving 160,000 soldiers with skills necessary in the Cold War to those better suited for the unconventional wars of today and tomorrow. So Keep Calm and Carry On, folks; at this rate, we could be winding down the final remnants of the current wars during the second half of the century.

G.I. Jane: Women in infantry?
Out of left field, an inquiring audience member asked if the Army would soon consider allowing women in infantry combat roles. While women have served on the front lines in various support roles during the recent conflicts, they are currently barred from serving in infantry, armor, and Special Forces roles. General Casey surprisingly didn’t bat an eyelash or dismiss the question, saying that “we’re looking at revising the policy” and that the issue would probably be raised in the next couple of months. Kicking the can down the road, Casey said he didn’t want to “venture a guess and put my successor ‘in a box.'” General Dempsey, it looks like you might want to add “G.I. Jane” to your Netflix queue.

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. Twitter: @tomricks1

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