Army's Top NCO Tells of 'Stress' in the Force

Daniel Dailey is sworn in as the 15th Sergeant Major of the Army during a swearing-in ceremony at the Pentagon on Jan. 30, 2015. Administering the oath is Gen. Ray Odierno, as Dailey's wife, Holly, looks on. (CARLOS BONGIOANNI/STARS AND STRIPES)
Daniel Dailey is sworn in as the 15th Sergeant Major of the Army during a swearing-in ceremony at the Pentagon on Jan. 30, 2015. Administering the oath is Gen. Ray Odierno, as Dailey's wife, Holly, looks on. (CARLOS BONGIOANNI/STARS AND STRIPES)

WASHINGTON — Sgt. Maj. Daniel Dailey was sworn in as the new sergeant major of the Army on Jan. 30, becoming the Army’s top noncommissioned officer and the service chief’s No. 1 adviser on matters affecting enlisted soldiers.

In an interview with Stars and Stripes, he talked about the state of the force and what the future will bring.

Recruiting good soldiers likely will become more challenging in the years ahead, according to Dailey.

“We are a nation that’s coming away from war … and the economy is getting better,” he said. “That’s good from a national perspective. [But] historically we’ve seen a drop in accessions based upon the increase in the economy” because potential recruits have more job opportunities elsewhere.

He said offering new enlistment and retention bonuses is one option for attracting and keeping quality people, but “we’ll have to see” if that’s needed.

The Army recently changed their recruiting slogan, asking potential recruits in TV ads, “Can you make the cut?” Part of Dailey’s job description is to promote the Army to the public.

“One of the things [Army chief of staff Gen. Ray Odierno] has tasked me to do is to get out there and make sure that the American people understand the image of the United States Army and the great professionals that serve within it,” Dailey said.

A smaller army

As the Army comes out of more than a decade of war, the service plans to shrink the size of the force from 490,000 active-duty troops to somewhere in the range of 440,000 to 450,000. In doing so, the Army will have to force people out.

“The way we need to become a smaller Army is a standards-based approach,” Dailey said. “That’s the goal, to make sure we’re doing this right … and minimizing the [number of] good soldiers [to whom] we have to say, ‘I’m sorry, we have no room for you.’ ”

As battle-hardened veterans leave the service, he’s concerned about the consequences for the force.

“It doesn’t take long to atrophy in both skills and personnel,” he said. “Some of our great warriors … will separate. It’s critically important to understand that they have to teach and coach and mentor the next generation, because someone’s got to carry on this legacy.”

Dailey is well aware that troops and their families are worried about the impact of defense budget constraints and force structure reductions on their futures.

“It is uncertainty …,” he said. “They have a lot of questions: What does sequestration mean? Where is the Army headed? How many people will have to go home? And those are all very valid questions, especially for those family members that have sacrificed for the last [13] years of war,” he said.

He said he tells them the service has to control costs.

“We have the responsibility … to preserve our nation’s wealth [and] we have to be able to exercise caution when we use the gracious gift of the taxpayer’s dollar,” he said, adding that he’s confident that civilian leaders “will give us the resources we need to accomplish our mission.”

Changing benefits

Other concerns for soldiers and their families are potential changes to the military retirement and health care systems. Proposals include encouraging troops to opt out of the current pension system and enrolling them in a Thrift Savings Plan account that would sock away 3 percent of pay along with a contribution from the military, and replacing Tricare health insurance with an array of private-provider options.

Dailey declined to address specific proposals, but said, “If there is a change, our goal is to preserve what we have for our soldiers currently serving now.” If future recruits have to accept a different retirement system, “I’m OK with that,” he said. “I think that’s fair.”

Health and readiness

Dailey acknowledged the toll taken by 13 years of continuous war, including multiple deployments for many troops.

“I spent a significant amount of time deployed with those young men and women [and] there is stress in the force,” he said.

He noted the increase in mental health problems within the ranks, and said the Army is working hard to “make sure that we take care of our wounded warriors, whether you can see those wounds or not.”

Asked about overall health and morale, Dailey said he believes the “force is healthy with regard to the spirit” because “those young men and women … that have chosen to make this a career are very resilient … I think they have much more resiliency than I had when I was a young soldier.”

The Army is coming out of Afghanistan and is transitioning to more of a peacetime footing. But American soldiers in recent months have been sent back to Iraq, have deployed to Africa to deal with the Ebola outbreak, and have been dispatched to Europe to reassure NATO allies worried about Russian aggression.

Dailey said soldiers need to be prepared to deploy overseas for contingencies even though there aren’t any large-scale U.S. ground wars going on now.

They can “turn on the news any day [and ask themselves] where are we going to go next?” he said. “They have to be ready in a moment’s notice.”

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