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Gen. George Casey Jr., Army chief of staff, shakes hands with Sgt. Nathan Akridge prior to a re-enlistment ceremony at Caserma Ederle, Italy. Casey, making his second trip to Europe since assuming his duties earlier this year, helped re-enlist three soldiers in Vicenza. He was set to leave for Germany later in the day.

Gen. George Casey Jr., Army chief of staff, shakes hands with Sgt. Nathan Akridge prior to a re-enlistment ceremony at Caserma Ederle, Italy. Casey, making his second trip to Europe since assuming his duties earlier this year, helped re-enlist three soldiers in Vicenza. He was set to leave for Germany later in the day. (Kent Harris / S&S)

VICENZA, Italy — The Army’s senior military leader said Tuesday that he believes keeping troops and their families stationed overseas is “critically important” to his service’s future.

Gen. George W. Casey Jr., the Army chief of staff, said the service has millions of dollars invested in facilities around Europe. So it makes sense, financially, to stay. But he said the military’s ability to influence people is as important as its successes on the battlefield. And troops and their families living in various countries allows the local population to get to know Americans as well as giving troops a chance to experience other cultures and interact with military counterparts.

Casey served multiple tours in Europe. He was based in Vicenza in 1973. Later, he served in various capacities in the 1st Armored Division in Germany and was chief of staff of V Corps in Heidelberg.

He didn’t address U.S. Army Europe’s reported interest in keeping more brigades in Europe than originally anticipated in places such as Baumholder or Schweinfurt.

Casey said he was making his second trip to Europe since taking over his current job in April. Vicenza was the first stop, followed by installations in Germany.

“I came here for two reasons,” he said. “One: I haven’t been here in a while. Two: They’ve got the (173rd Airborne) Brigade deployed and I wanted to see how the families are doing.”

Casey, the top U.S. general in Iraq from 2004 through February, met with families earlier in the day to discuss issues. Media members weren’t allowed to attend.

He said families in Vicenza and elsewhere should be noticing changes since the Army’s decision to spend $1.4 billion to fund an array of family programs. About $100 million was spent in the last 90 days of the fiscal year to hire more Army Community Services employees and expand child-care hours. He said top issues expressed during his talks with families usually include improving housing, better access to health care and more educational opportunities.

He said it appeared that family members weren’t as interested in new programs as they were in “fully funding our [existing] programs and standardizing them across the installations.”

Casey also helped re-enlist three sergeants in a ceremony in front of the base’s Fallen Warrior memorial. He said about 250,000 Americans had either enlisted or re-enlisted in the Army or its reserve components in the first nine months of the year, showing that “there’s still a lot of patriots willing to serve their country.”

He said the Army was meeting its retention goals and “keeping the combat-experienced veterans is essential to our ability to maintain the quality of force over time.”

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Kent has filled numerous roles at Stars and Stripes including: copy editor, news editor, desk editor, reporter/photographer, web editor and overseas sports editor. Based at Aviano Air Base, Italy, he’s been TDY to countries such as Afghanistan Iraq, Kosovo and Bosnia. Born in California, he’s a 1988 graduate of Humboldt State University and has been a journalist for almost 38 years.

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