By Jeff Crawley, Army News Service
LEAVENWORTH, Kan. -- The chief of staff of the Army and
his wife visited Fort Leavenworth March 27 to talk to students in the
Pre-Command Course, along with their spouses, and the Army's senior
spouse took the opportunity to talk about the state of Army families.
Sheila Casey, wife of Army Chief
of Staff Gen. George W. Casey Jr., talks with Fort Leavenworth,
(Photo by Prudence Siebert)
Sheila Casey, wife of Gen. George W. Casey Jr., has been a
military spouse for more than 35 years. Their assignments have taken
them to Europe, Egypt and throughout the United States.
She works as the chief operating officer of "The
Hill," a newspaper that reports on Congress. She also is a member
of the Board of Governors of the National Military Families
Association, a nonprofit organization that is the voice for military
Fort Leavenworth Lamp: How important is the role of the
Mrs. Casey: It is huge. I say that because we have a
saying, "You recruit the Soldier, but you retain the
family." I don't think that it's ever been truer than it is
today. What we've realized is that the family is a readiness issue. It
is very important that as a Soldier, especially going off on a
deployment, that his or her family is being taken care of so that they
can go off and do their job.
Lamp: What advice would you give to spouses who are new
to the Army Family?
Mrs. Casey: I would tell them to get involved with their
family readiness groups. Sometimes it's very hard to capture those
(new) people -- they may be living away from the post, you may not
know that a Soldier is married. So I would say, "Come in, join
these groups and learn what's available." Even with all these
programs and everything that we have, our best resource is each other.
We've been through this. I think that spouses really help other
spouses, and we depend on each other to get through these times.
Lamp: You meet a lot of Army Families. What's the morale
of families today?
Mrs. Casey: The morale is good. They are a very
committed group of people. They are stressed and they are stretched.
We have realized since we've traveled around that they really are the
most brittle part of the force. But even through that, they are
I have concerns about the continued deployments because I think
that the compounding of the stress of a spouse coming and going is
very difficult. Some are on deployment number four. All of those
things add up. One issue I'm particularly concerned about is our
children because we do not know, yet, what the cumulative effects of
these deployments are on our children. That is something that we have
to watch very, very closely, and making sure that there is help and
support for them as well.
Lamp: What are some of the immediate effects of the Army
Family Covenant that you've seen since it was signed in October?
Mrs. Casey: What I've seen and what I've heard is that
people have felt the immediate impact of the money coming down. This
year, $1.4 billion is going toward family programs and next year, $1.7
The changes that people have seen are increases in child care
centers, increases in respite hours for Exceptional Family Member
Programs, increases in child care hours, they have done away with many
registration fees not only for child care centers, but many youth
programs as well.
Lamp: What do you see coming down the pike for Army
Families from the covenant?
Mrs. Casey: We are putting family readiness support
assistants down through the brigade level. Those are paid positions to
help with the family readiness groups, which is very important. The
Army is trying to hire about 200 counselors to help with mental
health, and that's another big issue that's very important to
Lamp: What else needs to be done for families?
Mrs. Casey: We have to improve on a lot of things. We
need to work on educational issues for spouses and for families. We
need to continue to do work on spouse employment programs because you
have some 60-odd percent of spouses (who) are in the work force. As
you move, it becomes very difficult to find jobs. We have to continue
to help spouses find employment or to have careers that they can
transfer from place to place. And, housing -- that's continuing to
change and improve as well.
Lamp: You've been a military spouse for more than 35
years. What are some of the major improvements that you've seen in
Army Family life?
Mrs. Casey: It's so big when I think back. Let's take
Army Community Service (ACS). When George first went into the Army,
ACS was a lending closet -- you went there to get an ironing board.
Everything was so limited.
We didn't have child care centers, we had nurseries where you
could drop in and do a little hourly care. There was no network to
inform people what was going on at the unit or how things worked.
There really weren't many services, but again, we had each other.
Lamp: Is there anything else that you would like to add?
Mrs. Casey: I would like to emphasize the continual need
to think about these families and what they are going through. It's
very important for the civilian community to get involved and to stay
involved with people in the military, especially now because everybody
doesn't live on a post. And, you have the Reserve and National Guard,
who are spread across the United States and are big parts of their
communities. These are times when people need to put their arms around
the military families, which includes the single Soldiers, and
contractors and the civilians who are working very hard to keep this
machine moving and who are also deploying.
(Crawley writes for the "Fort