FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. (May 4, 2023) — Nearly 100 civilian aides to the Secretary of the Army will visit Fort Leonard Wood next week to attend their annual national conference.
CASAs, as they’re commonly called, are business and community leaders appointed by the Secretary of the Army to advise and support Army leaders across the country. They serve without a salary, and each state has at least one. Missouri currently has two — one for the western portions of the state, and one for the east.
Keith Pritchard is the CASA representing western Missouri. Appointed by former Army Secretary John McHugh in 2013, Pritchard has served continuously since then. He said this was the first time the conference has been held in the Show-Me State.
“I’m very excited to get them here,” he said. “I’m very excited to show off what we have in Missouri, certainly Fort Leonard Wood.”
This year also marks the 100th anniversary of the CASA program, Pritchard said.
“We’re going to honor the program — do a historical review,” he said. “There are somewhere around 800 total civilian aides in the 100-year history of the program, and Missouri actually has one of the longest-serving CASAs ever, and that was John Mahaffey, who the museum is named after. He was a great American, and a great advocate. He had served in the World War II era a couple of years, but really, his business support of the base and the military is what elevated him to a civilian aide.”
For this year’s conference, Pritchard said the CASAs will sit through fewer briefings, and instead, have more opportunities to interact with Soldiers here.
“All of that classroom-type stuff has been eliminated from our conference, and when they’re here, they’re actually going to be out seeing things, doing things, watching our Soldiers, and it’ll be more interactive,” Pritchard said.
The experiences gained during the conference assist the CASAs with one of the most important roles they play in their communities across the country, Pritchard said — telling the Army story. He noted the number of CASAs has grown by about 40 over the past five years.
“And that’s at the wishes of the sitting secretary, whether they want to add additional people to represent him or her,” Pritchard said. “The growth of the program had to do with the fact that many areas of our country do not have military bases around them. (The Army Secretary is) trying to use civilian aides to represent the Army out into the community. Most of that growth went into the large, metropolitan areas of California, New York, Philadelphia.”
One event Pritchard said he’s especially excited to show off to the other CASAs next week is the Community Salute to Service, set to take place at 6 p.m. on Wednesday at Waynesville High School. The event, first held here in 2019, honors area high school students, who are joining a branch of the military, ROTC or who have received an appointment to a military academy.
“That’s one of the things we’re especially happy about this conference,” he said. “Various different communities around the United States have a salute to service for incoming recruits, and different places do different things. We’re showing them how we do it in the Midwest, without a big corporate support umbrella or an organization that drives this type of event. It’s just our local school district; the local schools in the region, and then, of course, Fort Leonard Wood. It’s kind of like what we would do for college graduates, who sign to play sports — this is an opportunity to show them that they are signing to join the big team and join the United States military.”
Born and raised “just outside the front gate of Fort Leonard Wood,” Pritchard said he and the other Missouri CASAs have pitched this installation many times as an ideal location for a gathering of this magnitude.
“We were always considered,” he said, “but when we submitted this opportunity to (current Army Secretary Christine Wormuth) late last summer — and in October, she had a meeting with all of us — she said, ‘Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, trains Military Police; they train Army Engineers; they train Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear — we cannot go to war without any of those. What a great place to go visit and see how the Army does it.’ And then you add our basic combat training, our advanced individual training, one station unit training, all those specialized schools, intermediate schools and advanced schools we have here, we are a perfect place to show what the Army does.”
About Fort Leonard Wood
Fort Leonard Wood is a thriving and prosperous installation that has evolved from a small basic training post more than 80 years ago to a premier Army Center of Excellence that trains nearly 80,000 military and civilians each year.
Fort Leonard Wood is home to the U.S Army Maneuver Support Center of Excellence and three U.S. Army schools: the U.S. Army Engineer School; U.S. Army Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear School; and the U.S. Army Military Police School. In addition to training engineer, CBRN and military police specialties for the Army, Fort Leonard Wood also provides gender-integrated in-processing and Basic Combat Training for new Soldiers.
Fort Leonard Wood also hosts and trains with the largest Marine Corps Detachment and Air Force Squadron on any Army installation as well as a large Navy construction detachment.
More information about Fort Leonard Wood is at: https://home.army.mil/wood/index.php/about/mission