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Army Secretary Vows More Support for Deployed, Families

Army Secretary Pete Geren said Thursday that the military is trying to ease the burden on soldiers and their families during deployment.

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FORT BRAGG, N.C. — Army Secretary Pete Geren said Thursday that the military is trying to ease the burden that deployments put on soldiers and their families.

During a visit to Fort Bragg, Geren said he is optimistic that a drawdown of troops in the War on Terror could lead to shorter deployments. Army Chief of Staff Gen. George Casey said Wednesday that 15-month tours might be cut to 12 months by the summer.

"But you have to caveat that – it depends on what happens on the ground – and be careful in trying to project the future," Geren said.

About 16,000 Fort Bragg soldiers are deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan, and 156 members of the 82nd Airborne Division have been killed in fighting in the two countries.

Long and multiple deployments have stressed out soldiers and an estimated 500,000 dependents at home, and Geren expressed concern for the soldiers and spouses who have endured them.

“The strain of the global War on Terror has exposed seams and inadequacies in our support for families,” he said. “As an Army, we’re trying to do more to help families work through the demands of the conflict. But there’s no substitute for what a community can do – and what this community does."

Many Fort Bragg spouses work as volunteers for family support groups, and Geren says the Army is trying to ease the burden.

"Last summer, we put over $100 million into family support programs, adding more full-time support employees to support the family readiness group efforts, putting more money into childcare to reduce the cost and expand the availability," he said.

A Soldier and Family Assistance Center became fully operational on Fort Bragg two weeks ago. The center serves as a one-stop shop for support services like money management, childcare, chaplain assistance, legal assistance, military personnel issues, benefits counseling, education and employment opportunities.

Next year, the Army plans to begin a $16 million expansion of Robinson Health Center, and work is expected to begin in 2010 on a $21 million primary care clinic.

The Army also is working beef up psychiatric treatment for soldiers, especially recognizing post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, Geren said.

"We've taught literally every soldier in the Army information about PTSD, how to spot it, how to get treatment, and are working to reduce the stigma so that people will get treatment," he said.

During his visit, Geren stopped at the 1st Battalion of the 505th Parachute Regiment to see a memorial for eight soldiers killed in Iraq.

“There’s no place in America that’s carried a heavier burden than Fort Bragg when it comes to the global War on Terror,” he said.


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