By Amanda Kim Stairrett
Killeen Daily Herald
FORT HOOD – The Army's chief of staff visited with more than 400 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment soldiers and leaders Thursday to get a sense of the challenges they and their families face with repeated deployments.
Gen. George W. Casey Jr., who has served as the 1st Cavalry Division's chief of staff and a brigade commander, said hard times become apparent when the soldiers return.
"What I find is you don't see a lot of the stresses and strains when the soldiers are deployed," he said during a press conference after his visit. "They're out there on missions, they're doing their jobs, they're focused."
Families are reunited and have to deal with the harsh reality that their soldiers have just returned and already know when they're deploying again. Sometimes, it's just 13 or 14 months down the road and that's hard, Casey said.
"Especially when you're doing it for the second or third time."
Casey was also scheduled to meet with family members during his trip, but time didn't allow after his plane had to land in Waco instead of Killeen.
While the regiment's troopers talked about the difficulties deployments bring, they also talked about the positives. Casey said he was impressed with how satisfied the soldiers were with what they accomplished in Iraq.
"They were very proud of what they've done," he said.
The regiment returned to Fort Hood from a 15-month deployment to Northern Iraq's Nineveh Province in January and February. They were replaced by the 1st Cavalry Division's 3rd Brigade Combat Team. This is the third deployment for each since the war in Iraq began.
One soldier told Casey his most profound memory from deploying was seeing the difference the soldiers made in another country, the general said.
"And that really is what sets the men and women of the American Army apart from other armies is they want to make a difference in the world, and they're making a very positive difference in Iraq and Afghanistan," he said.
Casey also talked to soldiers about changing their pace. Eighteen- to 20-hour days are typical for soldiers in combat and it takes awhile to slow down once they return home.
A lot of it is a person's energy and drive, he said, but units don't need soldiers working until the late hours in garrison. The work will get done, Casey said he told the soldiers.
"Nothing you're doing here at Fort Hood is as significant as the work that you just finished doing in Iraq," he told them. "And so they've gotta just learn to slow down. And part of that is our own culture. We just have to learn to take advantage of our down time and really relax."
Lt. Gen. Rick Lynch, III Corps and Fort Hood commander, established policies for III Corps soldiers that state the duty day will end at 5 p.m. Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays.
"This schedule allows service members to be home with their families by 1800 (6 p.m.) for a family dinner," a policy signed by Lynch read.
"Phantom Time" calls for the duty day to end no later than 3 p.m. on Thursdays. This means no mission-related activities will go on after that time, but installation services may.
No service member will work on weekends with the exception of those on guard
duty without Lynch's approval, the policy goes on to state. He is the "sole approval authority" for any exceptions to the policy. Casey also said Thursday the Army is focused on increasing dwell time, or the amount of time soldier are at home between deployments, and changes will be apparent this year.
Officials made a goal in 2007 to increase the Army's size by 74,000 soldiers by 2012. They met that target in January, with an active-duty force of 547,000.
Officials still have to build units for those soldiers to fill, but that increased force paired with the drawdown in Iraq will have a positive impact on dwell time, Casey said.
"What I expect to see is a slight increase in the total number of deployed Army forces we have between now and the end of the year," he said, estimating that number to be about 10,000.
"But then I think right after the first of the year, after the Iraqi elections, we're going to start seeing a gradual reduction. So what that will mean is we'll probably get to an average of 14 or 15 months dwell this year."
Next year could see one-and-a-half to two years at home between rotations, he added, assuming the Iraq drawdown happens on schedule.
Contact Amanda Kim Stairrett at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7547.