Defense Media Network

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

Caring for soldiers

Training holidays where possible?

Exactly! And training holidays that are predictable, where we know that the time is going to be off and no one is going to come and say, “We have an added requirement that is going to cause us to take this training holiday away from you.” We also need to have opportunities to take leave when it is best for the family and ensure that in the summer months, when kids are out of school, even if you are at the height of your training period, that you give folks the opportunity to make use of that time and have a real “no kidding” family vacation.

You did not know that you were going to be a family counselor when they gave you the fourth star, did you?

Well, you know, these are things that good leaders have known, and that’s not to say that I am a good leader, but leaders have known this, not just in the eight years of this war but prior to that. Little things, like the ability for service members to be more a part of the family make a difference. I’ll give you a great example; Lt. Gen. Bill Caldwell because he can out at Fort Leavenworth, has delayed the beginning of the duty day for his soldiers. And it is not to accommodate instructors or himself, but to accommodate the students, so they can have breakfast with their children at home and take them to school. Just a little thing like delaying a class start from 8:15 in the morning to 9 o’clock allows them to have family interaction, and that’s a wonderful thing. The ability to go to baseball games, birthday parties, to family events, not to have training on Super Bowl weekend, all these things are huge, and leaders really need to think about them. You know, the one that always got me is that when you are four and five years old one of the most looked forward to holidays is not necessarily Christmas as much as it is Halloween. And the ability to go with your kids as they trick or treat.

All right, having talked about what you see; now it is statistic time. It presently is last quarter of 2009, and what are all your numbers telling you about the state of your force right now? What are the personnel indicators telling you about your soldiers?

The personnel indicators, except for those things I look at as “stressors,” are looking better than they ever looked before, and that’s based on a combination of a whole bunch of things. I think one of the huge things, and I have no empirical data to prove this, is the state of the economy and the unemployment rate. We have a Delayed Entry Program now that is filled with 97.8 percent high school graduates. That is absolutely an unbelievable number. Last year we came in, I believe for the entire year, at 81 to 82 percent that were high school graduates. We are at 97.8 percent right now in our delayed entry program. Those are soldiers we are going to pull in now based on the fact that we just got authority for a temporary 22,000-soldier increase.

They are going to be your pipeline increase?

They are my pipeline folks, and quite frankly, it could be a hundred percent high school graduates except that we have certain soldiers that, while not high school graduates, have language skills that are absolutely critical for us – people we want because they speak some of those critical languages that we need downrange. High school graduate or not, we want them in the force because of that special skill that they already have.

And correct me if I am wrong, you can teach them how to be a high school graduate?

That’s exactly right, but these are unbelievable numbers. In addition, our retention rates are very, very high. In fact we had to do a little adjusting for who we would allow to remain in the Army to try to get our authorized end strength numbers on target. We shot right past 547,400 and ended up somewhere in the vicinity of 550,000. We originally had a requirement to bring it down to 547,400 by 30 Sept. 2009. Now that’s going to be eased with the authority to add up to an additional 22,000 soldiers. So those numbers are very high. While I am not seeing any critical retention issues right now, I am watching very, very carefully the mid-grade officers. Even with the multiple deployments, we are seeing them, along with our non-commissioned officers, remaining with the force.

Now, that’s one set of numbers. At the same time, I am concerned with the stress numbers that I am seeing. I am concerned with the unacceptable rate of suicides in the Army. We are tackling and working this very, very hard. I am concerned about, and it’s documented, that we have an increase in the break-up of marriages. That concerns me, and I think that’s a direct result of multiple deployments. I am concerned with what I believe is an increase with alcohol abuse. I am not saying that everybody in the Army is an alcoholic, but I think that after eight years of war, and based on the conditions that I described for you, you can see that when soldiers come home there will be a greater number of them than before who will turn to alcohol as a way of getting some kind of temporary relief from some of the stresses that they’ve faced. When you add that to relationship problems, financial issues, and problems with alcohol abuse and drug abuse as a whole, it causes folks to get in trouble with the law. Those are the kinds of stressors that have me concerned right now.

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