After nine years of conflict and three years of struggling to put the Army back in balance, while transforming to a modular brigade formation, Gen. George W. Casey Jr. on Oct. 26 said the force is "breathing a bit easier," but must now begin to prepare for "the second decade" of the era of persistent conflict.
Looking ahead, the Army chief of staff said the goals were to "maintain the combat edge while we seek to reconstitute the force," not back to where it was before the 9/11 attacks, but for the future.
Casey gave the annual "State of the Army" address to the Dwight D. Eisenhower Luncheon at the Association of the United States Army Annual Meeting and Exposition after presenting awards to some of the Army’s top performing units and noncommissioned officers.
In what will be his last Annual Meeting appearance as the Army’s top soldier, Casey recalled his previous warnings that the Army was "out of balance" with an undersized force strained by too many combat deployments.
Helped by the drawdown in Iraq and the growth of the force, the Army is able to ease the dwell-to-deployment ratio, which has been one-to-one.
"By the end of the year, I believe we will be able to put the Army on a sustainable deployment tempo, with as many units trained and ready to deploy" as are in Iraq and Afghanistan, he said.
The Army’s goal is two years at home for a year deployed – a 1:2 ratio – by next year and 1:3 by 2014 for the active force and 1:5 for the guard and reserve.
But after using the reserve components so heavily in the nine years of conflict that they have become a "tactical reserve," Casey said, "We do not want to take the guard and the reserve back to a strategic reserve," in which they would be able to deploy only in a major war.
Casey noted that while the Army has been fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, it also completed the biggest transformation since World War II, converting from a division-based to brigade-centric formation, and a major relocation in carrying out the 2005 base realignment and closure commission recommendations.
That transformation is nearly completed and the final moves of personnel under BRAC are under way, he said.
The Army is also are nearly done with the change of 125,000 soldiers away from "Cold War" occupational specialties to skills needed in the new security environment, Casey said.
But now the Army must begin to prepare for the next decade of persistent conflict against a persistent enemy that is determined to attack the United States homeland, he said.
That includes regaining the Army’s capability for full-spectrum combat, which has eroded because the rapid deployment tempo left no time for that kind of training, Casey said.
They also need to reconstitute the Army’s equipment, which has suffered from combat losses and excessive wear from the constant deployments.
But, he emphasized, it was not the intent to restore the old equipment set, but to build for the future. As part of that, he predicted the Army would field its proposed new Ground Combat Vehicle in seven years.
That program has suffered from technical problems and was forced to refocus after Defense Secretary Robert Gates canceled the more ambitious Future Combat Systems program.
Despite the dramatic change in the Army combat formations, Casey said the future threats require "constant transformation." To guide that, he has ordered two studies.
One studying the future relationship of the active and reserve components, being led by a former Army chief of staff, Gen. Dennis Reimer, USA, Ret., was expected next week, he said. The other, being conducted by Training and Doctrine Command, was due next year.
"It’s time to reassess the impact of nine years of combat on our institution," Casey said. "It’s imperative that we gain a better understanding of how nine years of conflict have affected us as a profession and a culture."
Casey noted the "nation has invested a lot" in the Army and "it is essential to take a hard look at ourselves."
The general ended his presentation with a tribute to the Army’s latest Medal of Honor recipient – Staff Sgt. Robert Miller, a Green Beret soldier who lost his life protecting his unit in a fierce fight in Afghanistan.