CASA National Conference Columbia, SC May, 2019

More than 70 Civilian Aides to the Secretary of the Army (CASA), from around the nation (including Guam & American Samoa…talk about long plane rides!), gathered last week in Columbia, SC for three-days of Army briefings on several topics, along with visits to near-by Fort Jackson.

Fort Jackson, founded in 1917, is the Army’s largest basic combat training post.  Over 50% of all U.S. Army enlistees undergo their 10-week initial training there (Fort Benning, Fort Sill, and Fort Leonard Wood are the Army’s other basic training sites).  New enlistees surge during the summer months, resulting in 1,200 to 1,400 young men and women per week (!) training at Fort Jackson.  Between uniformed personnel, civilian staff, and the continuing number of enlistees, Fort Jackson would actually rank as the third largest “city” in South Carolina.

Much of the conference presentation time was devoted to recruiting, which is currently the SecArmy’s #1 priority.  And recruiting isn’t getting any easier, especially with a booming economy, and with it, historic employment levels.  Hampered also by the U.S. birth rate tapering off, and the fact that 71% of 17-24- year-old Americans are ineligible to serve!   Although the remaining 29% are eligible, they are not necessarily accepted. Primary reason: obesity.  Other disqualifiers include lack of H.S. diploma, criminal record, and medical issues.  Waivers are sometimes granted on appeal.

Considered to be a current “hot” opportunity for reaching those in the primary enlistment age group, along with social media, is video gaming.  Now termed “Esports,” high schools are beginning to start student teams, and even college scholarships are just beginning to be offered.  The Army, itself, now has an official Esports team, currently assisting with reaching young people in the 22 U.S. cities that are now the focus of more intense recruiting efforts.  The Army sees gaming skills as similar to key skills needed in service. For instance, gamers do better with strategy than those who don’t play.

One of the road-blocks recruiters must overcome is the perception that the Army is the “last resort” for high school graduates.  Or that a son/daughter will be sent to war and killed.  Parents should be comforted to learn that of the 150 MOSs available to recruits, 80% of them are non-combat related.  So depending on how well a young person does on his/her initial Army testing, there are abundant opportunities for world-class training across this huge number of career fields.  Additionally, Army service provides the opportunity to earn a paid-for college degree, both while serving and/or after completion of service.  And Army veterans offer great advantages to civilian employers, with qualities like discipline, quality training (that is, educated), credentialed, showing up on time, and no tuition-debt!  After service, the Army’s Soldier for Life program helps with the transition to civilian employment and is there to help veterans for the long haul.

Other conference presentations included Army Reserve, National Guard, Cadet Command (ROTC), Soldier for Life, a Drill Sergeant panel, and an in-person visit from the SecArmy Dr. Esper, who facilitated a question and answer session with attendees.

As a special treat, the CASAs were invited to an evening reception at the Governor of South Carolina’s mansion.  And at Fort Jackson, day-time demonstrations of repelling to build trainee confidence, and how those getting over-heated during activities (in the South Carolina summer!) are cared for and brought back quickly to normal body temperature level. The final event was the opportunity for CASAs to attend a graduation ceremony, at the conclusion of which, prideful parents are able to great their new soldiers.  As parents often say to Drill Sergeants at that point: “How were you able to transform my son/daughter in 10-weeks, when I couldn’t do it in 18-years!!

It was a very good conference, with much to learn and to experience.  And especially seeing today’s trainees becoming tomorrow’s soldiers in America’s Army. Next year’s meeting will be outside Washington, D.C. at the new Army National Museum.