Two Generals

Timothy B. Clark

Is seeking to "win" hazardous to the Army's long-term health?

Significant policy shifts in the U.S. commitment to Iraq have been kicked down the road a year or so in the wake of Gen. David Petraeus' lionization during the briefings he gave Congress in mid-September. The upbeat assessment he delivered of the military surge's effects gave cover, given his greater credibility, to President Bush's demand for more time at war.

Petraeus was received as a kind of military oracle by most members of Congress despite the unpopularity of the war, restiveness among senior Republicans and news reports that his views are not shared by other senior military leaders.

Making a show of independence from Bush, Petraeus on Sept. 11 told Congress that "I wrote this testimony myself. It has not been cleared nor shared with anyone in the Pentagon, the White House or the Congress." But Petraeus is now Bush's man and Bush is now Petraeus' patron. For the moment, they have the upper hand, and others must fall into rank.

Important in the supporting cast is Petraeus' predecessor as commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, Gen. George W. Casey Jr., now Army chief of staff. Casey had been leery of augmenting U.S. forces in Iraq. As Bush and Petraeus demand the resources to "win," Casey labors on the supply side to stretch an Army that he concedes is too small and too stressed to continue for long at the present pace of operations.

I had the privilege of interviewing Casey in early September. He said he and his wife, Sheila, had returned from visits to many Army installations worried about the stress that repeated deployments were placing on soldiers and their families. He said he asked the question: "Isn't the decision of the soldier to stay with the all-volunteer force so dependent on the family's happiness that we should treat families as a readiness issue?" And everybody always said, "Yeah, what took you so long?" Readiness issues demand immediate attention, Casey noted, and indeed, he's shaken free an extra $100 million to support the families he has called "the most brittle part of the force."

The new policy of 15 months on deployment followed by just 12 months at home aggravates the strains, and has put the Army "out of balance," in Casey's view. He mentioned the repeated deployments when I asked him about the challenge of retaining captains and majors, key leaders in the Army who are currently in short supply. "That's why putting ourselves back in balance is so important to the long-term health of the force," he said, "because people are making decisions based on what their future looks like."

Retention numbers are OK so far, Casey said, but still he's worried. Senior Army leaders of the post- Vietnam era have told him: "Look, there's kind of an invisible red line out there, and even though you'll track indicators, you won't know it until you cross it, and once you cross it, it's too late." Casey, one senses, is worried that the Army he has served for 37 years is nearing that tipping point.

Tim Signature
Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
FROM OUR SPONSORS
JOIN THE DISCUSSION
Close [ x ] More from GovExec
 
 

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from GovExec.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Going Agile:Revolutionizing Federal Digital Services Delivery

    Here’s one indication that times have changed: Harriet Tubman is going to be the next face of the twenty dollar bill. Another sign of change? The way in which the federal government arrived at that decision.

    View
  • Cyber Risk Report: Cybercrime Trends from 2016

    In our first half 2016 cyber trends report, SurfWatch Labs threat intelligence analysts noted one key theme – the interconnected nature of cybercrime – and the second half of the year saw organizations continuing to struggle with that reality. The number of potential cyber threats, the pool of already compromised information, and the ease of finding increasingly sophisticated cybercriminal tools continued to snowball throughout the year.

    View
  • Featured Content from RSA Conference: Dissed by NIST

    Learn more about the latest draft of the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology guidance document on authentication and lifecycle management.

    View
  • GBC Issue Brief: The Future of 9-1-1

    A Look Into the Next Generation of Emergency Services

    View
  • GBC Survey Report: Securing the Perimeters

    A candid survey on cybersecurity in state and local governments

    View
  • The New IP: Moving Government Agencies Toward the Network of The Future

    Federal IT managers are looking to modernize legacy network infrastructures that are taxed by growing demands from mobile devices, video, vast amounts of data, and more. This issue brief discusses the federal government network landscape, as well as market, financial force drivers for network modernization.

    View
  • eBook: State & Local Cybersecurity

    CenturyLink is committed to helping state and local governments meet their cybersecurity challenges. Towards that end, CenturyLink commissioned a study from the Government Business Council that looked at the perceptions, attitudes and experiences of state and local leaders around the cybersecurity issue. The results were surprising in a number of ways. Learn more about their findings and the ways in which state and local governments can combat cybersecurity threats with this eBook.

    View

When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.