Returning the National Guard to its Cold War-era strategic reserve posture is not the answer when defense leaders discuss the future, the Army’s chief of staff said in New Orleans Aug. 3.
"No one wants to go back to the guard being just a strategic reserve," Gen. George W. Casey Jr. said during a visit to the 2010 National Guard Family Program Volunteer Workshop.
Adding, "We have come way too far. Half of the guard is combat veterans. That’s a fundamentally different force and, as a result, it’s a fundamentally different Army."
The United States is in an era of persistent conflict, Casey said, noting that he anticipates a significant operational tempo for the next decade. That follows nine years of war in which the National Guard has already played a crucial role.
"We are actively working through a study that will answer the question for us: ‘What should the role of the guard and reserve be in an era where we’re likely to have to rely on them continuously for a long period of time?’" he said.
The Army could not have accomplished what it has over last nine years without the National Guard, Casey said. "It’s Minutemen and women that are holding this force together," he said. "Thank you for what you have done to support this Army and this country."
Casey and his wife, Sheila, spent about two hours talking with volunteers who support National Guard families. An event scheduled in the same room was canceled because they remained an hour beyond their planned visit to address questions from a standing-room-only audience of guard family members.
"It’s not just the guard families," Casey said. "It’s the entire volunteer force. We realized back in 2007 that we had to significantly increase what we were doing for all Army families, because of what we were asking of them. We were asking of them far more than what our programs were delivering."
Spending on family programs has doubled, and an Army covenant recommitted service leaders to support active, guard and reserve families.
"There’s always more work to do, but I think it’s been very well-received," Casey said.
The Caseys have a noncommissioned officer son on active duty with the Army Reserve, making Sheila Casey both a soldier’s wife and a soldier’s mother. Meeting with volunteers with whom she can relate not just through empathy, but also by first-hand experience, she was able to discuss self-care.
"Part of the problem that caregivers have is that they don’t take care of themselves," she said. "Everybody else comes first. What I end up seeing is people who after extended deployments … are burned out and they’re tired.
"What I ask them to do is to change that and to start putting themselves first, on top of the pile." She added, "If they do that, then they will have the strength and the wherewithal to take care of their families."
Sheila Casey tells military spouses to find one thing that they love to do that is just for themselves and take the time to do that.
Gen. Casey briefed guard family program volunteers on the guard’s transformed role since Sept. 11, 2001, and Defense Department leaders’ goals for a future of more predictable deployments and more time at home between deployments.
Standing in front of a chronological chart displaying the guard’s contributions in the more than 60 years since World War II, he explained how a decision made from lessons learned from the Vietnam War transformed the National Guard.
"The general conventional wisdom coming out of that period … that we had to rely on the draft and could not rely on the guard and reserve broke the active Army," Casey said. "That’s too simplistic, … but … that led [to] the total force policy, and they said: ‘We will never again go to war without the guard and reserve.’"
The role increased in the early 1990s following Operation Desert Storm, and notably shifted in the days after the 9/11 attacks. It has not diminished since.
"From Desert Storm, there has been relatively consistent reliance on the guard and reserve," Casey said. "Since Sept. 11, we have relied on the guard and reserve … that really has been unprecedented in the last 60 years."
Adding, "We are pretty close to being one Army. We have purposely integrated the guard into everything that we do. We have made a huge change with the guard over the last nine years. … None of us wants to go back to having the guard as just a strategic reserve."
(Editor’s note: This article is based on a news release from the National Guard Bureau.)