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US House Armed Services Committee

STATEMENT BY 
KENNETH O. PRESTON 
SERGEANT MAJOR OF THE ARMY

 BEFORE THE
COMMITTEE ON ARMED SERVICES
SUBCOMMITTEE ON TOTAL FORCE
UNITED STATES HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES

REGARDING DEPLOYMENT HEALTH
IN THE UNITED STATES ARMY

FEBRUARY 25, 2004
 

Good afternoon, and thank you for inviting me to come before you today to discuss health deployment issues in America's Army.

Until December of this past year, I served as the Command Sergeant Major of Combined Joint Task Force - 7 and V Corps in Iraq.  During more than a year of preparations and operations in Kuwait and Iraq, I spent countless hours talking to Soldiers, observing training, and missions, ensuring Soldiers adhered to safety policies, and communicating with our family readiness groups in Europe.

As the senior enlisted Soldier in Iraq, the safety, health, and well being of our troops was my paramount responsibility.  I traveled all over Iraq and Kuwait to ensure leaders were talking to their Soldiers about the challenges and stresses of combat, enforcing standards, and were properly equipped to accomplish their missions.

Safety is a key element of all that we do.  Leaders are expected to conduct risk assessments prior to every mission, brief their Soldiers on potential dangers and actions to take, and conduct after-action reviews following the operation.

The risk assessment process is critical to successful operations.  Our five-step process involves identifying hazards, assessing those hazards, making decisions, implementing controls to mitigate hazards, and supervising.  The last step - supervising - is the essential piece that makes it all work.

The situation in Iraq is improving every day, but Soldiers remain in a very stressful environment.  Leader involvement at every level is vital to combating stress and protecting our Soldiers.

One way we help Soldiers deal with the deployment is by quality of life improvements when they are not on patrols, convoys, or other operations.  We have recreation areas set up on almost all of our compounds.  Some have big-screen televisions, pools, videogames, Internet connections, pool tables, and telephones.  Others are more austere but include weight equipment to help Soldiers stay physically and mentally fit.

We rely a great deal on junior leaders, chaplains, doctors, and stress teams to identify issues and ensure Soldiers who need help get it.  Some Soldiers have a perceived stigma that getting help is a sign of weakness; so getting help to those who may need it can be difficult.  However, we are getting better at recognizing symptoms and warning signs and being proactive in referring Soldiers for care.

The combat stress control units are used to help treat Soldiers.  They continually provide classes, counseling, and recommendations to leaders on how to identify those in need.  These are small teams and it is leadership challenge to easily assist far-forward Soldiers.  Rest assured that our leadership is working hard to improve that process and get these teams to Soldiers faster and sooner.

Over the next few months, we will conduct the largest deployment and redeployment of U.S. Soldiers since World War II.  As leaders, we will mitigate risks now by ensuring every Soldier knows his or her role and that they remain focused on the inherent dangers until they step off the plane back in America and Europe.

I would like to highlight the U.S. Army Europe (USAREUR) Reintegration and Community Focused Redeployment Program.  A number of redeploying units stateside have adapted their programs to replicate what the USAREUR program accomplishes.

The program begins with Soldiers participating in a series of training sessions, filling out redeployment surveys, and undergoing medical screening before they leave the theater.  Upon return, this process continues during a seven-day program that offers classes, additional medical screening, and information to Soldiers and their families.  This is accomplished prior to the Soldiers taking leave.

I believe the key element is family involvement.  Our objective is to help smooth the reunion process for Soldiers, their spouses, and children.  Important aspects of this program is to help participants recognize and establish realistic expectations about the reunion.  They also learn how to spot symptoms of stress, learn about sources of assistance, and the importance of communicating.

Other areas of emphasis are on Privately Owned Vehicle (POV) safety and financial management.  POV safety is included in reintegration training before and after deployment.  For instance, more than 5,700 deployed Soldiers purchased motorcycles from the Army and Air Force Exchange Service (AAFES).  Many of these Soldiers have not driven a civilian vehicle in over a year.  Lieutenant General Sanchez and I are very concerned about this and ensured POV safety was on the forefront of everyone's mind.

Over the course of the deployment, Soldiers earned significant additional pay for family separation, hazardous duty, and imminent fire.  This is a concern of mine.  We encourage Soldiers to fight the urge to go on spending binges and waste the savings many have accumulated over the past year.  Financial counselors are also helping redeploying Soldiers who already find themselves in debt.

A significant program available to Soldiers is called armyonesource.com, which provides Soldiers and family members a 24-hour, seven-day a week resource to address issues, provide telephone assistance, and web-based informational tools.  It supplements current programs and has been a tremendous help to families not near military installations, particularly for our Reserve Component families.

In addition, our Reserve Component family assistance centers have made a difference.  Currently, we are operating 389 centers staffed with more than 1000 workers.  These centers not only help Reserve Component families, but also active duty Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force, and Coast Guard.

All of these programs are constantly evolving.  Our reintegration model has evolved tremendously since the early 1990s thanks to feedback from our Soldiers after operations in the Balkans.  It will continue to get better as we test and modernize.  The comments we received from Soldiers and families are extremely positive. 

Finally, I would like to highlight a developing initiative that I think will not only help Soldiers, but also send a clear signal to people that we take care of our own.  It is called the Disabled Soldiers Support System and its goal is to provide our most severely disabled Soldiers and their families with a system of personal support and liaison to resources, not constrained to an installation or component, with effective monitoring and follow up, to assist them in their transition from military service to civilian life.

Currently, we are interviewing the most recently medically retired Soldiers to determine their requirements and plan to operate this program by the 2nd quarter of fiscal year 2004 (COMMENT: we are in 2nd qyr FY 2004 and may need to update if this is in operation).  The program will support and complement Department of Veterans Affairs' programs, but will not replicate them.  Most importantly, we will continue to monitor and follow-up with our disabled veterans.

I appreciation your time today and your attention to these issues that concern all of us.  Our Soldiers are our most precious resource and we will continue to strive to improve our tools and programs that take care of them.  Thank you for all of your support.

House Armed Services Committee
2120 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20515



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