Local News

Chief of Staff speaks to Army families at Fort Bragg

Posted April 21, 2010 4:59 p.m. EDT
Updated April 21, 2010 5:59 p.m. EDT

— The Army is deploying soldiers at rates that are beyond what it can sustain, but withdrawal from Iraq should help ease the strain, Chief of Staff Gen. George W. Casey Jr. during a speech at Fort Bragg on Wednesday.

About 85,000 soldiers are currently serving in Iraq. By August, Casey said, that number should drop to 50,000.

“We are gradually improving the amount of time that soldiers spend at home,” he said.

Casey met with soldiers and their families on Wednesday. He said their top concerns are better access to medical and mental health providers.

He said the morale among families has improved since his last visit in 2007 – at the height of the deadly surge in Iraq.

“I can tell you that, generally, the families are in a much better place,” he said.

Still, in the past two years, the Army has experienced record high suicide rates. Casey said the numbers have risen steadily since 2004. The Department of Defense reported 160 suicides among active-duty Army personnel in 2009.

“That’s not acceptable and we’ve had a concerted effort over the last 18 months particularly to reduce that,” he said.

Casey pointed to a five-year, $50 million study the Army launched in 2008 with the National Institute of Mental Health.

“We believe that will shed some significant light on the whole suicide question – not just for us, but for the country,” he said.

Casey also said Army is working with the National Association of State Boards of Education to introduce JROTC-like programs to middle schools to help curb obesity rates among children.

“What Junior ROTC brings is physical fitness, civic duty and those types of values training that actually improves the capability of America’s youth,” he said.