Defense Media Network

Interview With U.S. Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Peter Chiarelli

Caring for soldiers

Which takes us to one other Army community, your special warfare (Special Operations Forces – SOF) personnel, who have their own completely different operations tempos and deployment schedules from the rest of the force. How are they holding up?

Our SOF units and personnel operate on a different operations tempo, normally on a six to seven-month deployment cycle, which of course is different than the rest of the Army and more along the lines of the Marine Corps deployment model. But as you know, many of them have five, six, seven rotations of that six- to seven-month deployment model. In fact, we would like to get the active component force down to something in that vicinity, possibly 9 months, but the problem when you do that is you have a significant amount of additional friction and that friction right now is unsustainable given the demand on the force.

That said, the Army Special Forces (the “Green Berets”) have regularly deployed in this fashion not only in this conflict but in the past. I think in many ways, many of their support systems are better, because they have been doing this for a while, and experience gives you the opportunity to improve those things. In addition, they are a smaller force, and being a smaller force it becomes a little easier to deliver some of these critical services, as opposed to the large active component general purpose forces and reserve component forces that we have.

How much of the pressures on deployed soldiers that you are seeing are coming from home station, family and other things back here in the United States? And what, in your mind, can the Army do to help reduce those? I am not just talking about improving the lot of the families but making it so that their lot in life does not blow back on soldiers deployed.

You know, there is no doubt that the connectivity of the Internet, and the ability to communicate back home daily, is by and large a good thing. Our ability to provide Internet connections for something as simple as Skype (r) [the free Internet-based phone system] has made an amazing difference for our soldiers. I had soldiers who were deployed, who would get on Skype (r) every single day and talk to their spouse back at home [if they could]. That can be a very positive thing if people handle that right, but it can also be a very negative thing if either partner tries to drag the other one into their world. Whether it is the service member serving abroad that tries to drag the spouse at home into his or her world or conversely, the spouse back at home that tries to get an individual that is going out to look at the Devil in the eye every single day, involved in the daily home activities and challenges.

Some soldiers and families handle it better than other soldiers and families, and I think we can do a better job of helping folks understand how to use that connectivity that we have today in a more positive fashion. That’s absolutely critical. I also think that we have to look at innovative programs when folks come back and have that dwell time, be it 24 months or less, where we make sure that the training follows a predictable pattern. As we bring in new leaders, because the Army Force Generation (ARFORGEN) model brings in new leaders normally 60 to 90 days after a unit returns, those leaders who are gearing up for that next deployment need to realize that a large portion of the units they are leading are composed of individuals who just got back. And although the soldiers have probably been “taking a knee” for a period of time, they need to do everything possible to give predictability about how much time at home soldiers who have just returned from a deployment and are getting ready for another one are going to get.

Is that issue of predictability versus uncertainty really in your mind a big issue that can give you some real traction in this situation?

It is a huge issue, bigger than you can imagine. And I hear that from spouses all the time. I have heard from spouses that tell me, quite frankly that, “I see more of my husband on the Internet or a Skype picture of him when he is deployed, than I do when he is back home. He comes back, we have that 30-day period where we kind of reconnect, but then, as soon as he returns back to work, he is in Reset, or may have to go to a non-commissioned officers’ education course and be gone for an additional four to six weeks. He comes back off of the training course only to find that his unit is back in the field training up for the next deployment. The soldier then grabs his rucksack and out to the field he goes. To them, there is no predictability. The only predictability they have is that they are going to see less of their husband or their spouse when they come home, and spend even less quality time with them than sometimes when he is deployed. So we have got to find a way to have the duty day end at a predictable time, say 17:30 to 18:00, and no training on the weekends unless absolutely necessary and approved by a general officer somewhere in the chain of command.

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John D. Gresham lives in Fairfax, Va. He is an author, researcher, game designer, photographer,...