“Beginning immediately, all active-duty Army soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan will serve 15-month tours — three months longer than the usual standard”, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Wednesday.
With the tour to a combat zone for many units in the active force being experienced multiple times the likelihood of 30 to 45 months in combat for today’s soldiers seems a horrific indicator of a force that is very undermanned and over worked. 15 Month Tours, reduced dwell time and repeated deployments indicates the burden of maintaining the troop levels in Iraq is being borne by a force that is too small. Couple the deployment with deplorable conditions in austere forward operating locations, the 360 threat environment and softening public backing is heading the force to a destructive threshold.
I completed 12 months in country and I will tell you it was a long and difficult period of sacrifice and danger. I can’t even grasp the tenacity required by today’s active duty force to return to Iraq with the specter of 15 month tours now and really every potential for extension to that time to an even greater deployment. In the formative period of young soldiers lives we are separating them from a stateside existence for more than half the time they are in uniform. 15 Months in Country and 12 months dwell time stateside is an unsustainable pace for active component soldiers.
Within the Army we should evaluate whether we are using all soldiers available to shoulder the burden of deployment – I’d be curious what percentage of the Army has never deployed to a combat theater – it’s a fair bet that it approached 20% of the force when all soldiers are considered.
As I’m always one to offer ideas in this blog –
Consider significant reduction in military soldier assignments to School staffs, Acquisition positions, Headquarters staffs, installations, depots, etc – Use either retired AC, active and/or retired Reserve, or DA Civilian to work tasks not directly related to warfighting. Assign the harvested Military to deploying troop units as needed.
Consider placement of high deployment soldiers to warrior tasks held by never deployed soldiers. (Recruiting Command, ROTC, Basic Training, etc) This could be done by reviewing all never deployed soldiers and accelerating their reassignment. Take soldiers that have contributed heavily out of the cycle of repeated deployments. This placement would be voluntary.
Do not allow extensions for any non-deployed soldier to remain in a non-deploying position. No hiding from the warfighting job.
Unpopular as heck is the stop loss program – The Army enters into a contract with the soldier – it should not be broken – period. Continuing to violate this will lead soldiers to depart when possible even if it is not in their best interests to do so. In this vein – consider a 1 or 2 year unbreakable volunteer extension for soldiers – The soldier in essence would be able to commit to a shorter duration absolute contract without fear of a stop loss, extension, or other event causing his personal plans to be shelved.
The current Army ideas involve increasing the active force and paying soldiers additional dollars or Leave time to deploy for extended periods of time. These make sense when they can be expected by the soldier, However, every time the established agreements are broken for Army needs, the soldier must question what else lurks down the road.
The soldiers deploying for the third and fourth tours in war zones are real heroes… thankfully we have them serving. We have to distribute the load of serving to the soldiers that have not had the opportunity to deploy and operating in the combat theater to be fair and rest the prime warfighters. We must consider all options available; realistically look at the burden born by our (thus far) willing soldiers. Failing to do so will lead to an unplanned, but not un-forecast, degradation of our Army.