'Don't Hollow Out the Army,' Outgoing Army Chief Casey Warns
FORT LAUDERDALE - Outgoing Army Chief of Staff Gen. George Casey Jr. has a simple goodbye message: He would like to see the Army maintain its combat edge, reconstitute itself and deal with the seen and unseen wounds of a decade of war — and do all that despite tighter budgets.
Casey worries that once combat ends in Afghanistan, the Army will experience a replay of what happened after Vietnam, he told attendees at the Association of the U.S. Army’s annual winter symposium.
“We have to be very, very careful we don’t hollow out the force," Casey said. "Little things that happen over time” can result in the Army losing its edge over the long term, he said. Army leaders didn’t realize until eight years after the last combat teams left Vietnam that the service was in trouble, Casey said.
The Army’s budget could drop significantly after current conflicts end, he said. The service has received substantial funding boosts from Congress in the form of overseas contingency operations dollars in recent years. In fiscal year 2008, it received $121 billion in OCO funds: Almost half of a total budget of $252 billion. The Army projects that by fiscal year 2020 it will be operating on a budget of about $167 billion. That’s still more than double than its $78 billion pre-9/11 budget.
“I don’t recall having to go around with a tin cup” in 2001, Casey said. It is possible and essential that the Army operate on a smaller budget, he said. “But the war is not over. ... Be careful. The last thing you want to do is hollow out the Army.”
Casey's expected replacement, Training and Doctrine Command chief Gen. Martin Dempsey, will be going through Senate confirmation hearings. He will inherit an Army with deep wounds. “We’ve lost over 4,000 soldiers,” Casey said. “They’ve left over 20,000 family members. We’ve had over 25,000 soldiers wounded and over 8,000 of them badly enough to require long-term care.”
The Army also has had more than 100,000 soldiers diagnosed with traumatic brain injury since the beginning of the war in Afghanistan. During that same time, another 40,000 have been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.
“We cannot take our eye off the ball in terms of our commitment to continue to support those that have been affected,” Casey said. Part of these efforts include giving soldiers more time at home between deployments. The goal is to give soldiers two years at home for every year deployed. Eventually, troops may have three years in between tours.
Lt. Gen. Rick Lynch, commander of Installation Management Command, which oversees the Army’s 163 installations across the country as well as many family programs, said it will be tough to secure the financial resources needed for these projects. The command now has $700 million less than it had just five years ago. A 2010 survey showed that 58.7 percent of military spouses were satisfied with their Army way of life. About 13 percent said they were dissatisfied. “That’s good,” Lynch said. “But not good enough.”