Army: 15-month tours likely for all who deploy until at least June, 2008
Top officials say measure needed to sustain troop levels, ensure one year at home
The Associated Press
FORT HOOD, Texas — All U.S. soldiers deploying to Iraq and Afghanistan between now and at least June 2008 will likely be facing the extended 15-month deployments, a top Army commander said Tuesday.
Commanders are assessing the situation on the ground now, but Gen. Richard Cody, the Army’s vice chief of staff, said it will take until at least June to shrink average deployments back to 12 months while maintaining the 158,000 troops now deployed in the region.
“It’s going to take a while to get off the 15 months,” he said in an interview on Tuesday.
He faced questions at every meeting with troops and commanders about the extended deployments and sought to reassure them it was a temporary measure designed to get enough soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan while giving them at least a year to rest and train between deployments.
“It was supposed to be interim and is not and will not be permanent,” he said in a meeting with leaders of the 4th Infantry Division, which is preparing to return to Iraq late this year.
Many members of the division are on their second and third deployments to Iraq.
During a visit to Fort Bliss, Texas, last month, Army Chief of Staff Gen. George Casey said the continuing war in Iraq has put so much pressure on the Army that even limiting deployments to 15 months can’t be guaranteed.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates said in June that an extension of the current 15-month deployments was a “worst-case-scenerio” that he did not anticipate.
In April, Gates announced the 15-month tours as a way to make sure troops could receive a full 12 months home following their combat deployments. The move affects all Army units deployed into Iraq and Afghanistan, including guardsmen and reservists.
At the time, Gates called the move temporary but offered no time line for a return to 12-month deployments.
In remarks to reporters in Washington on Tuesday, Casey reiterated that the 15-month tour is not a permanent change, but added “when we’ll come off that I don’t know.” He added that officials are closely monitoring the tour lengths to make sure it does not affect unit performance or morale.
“For us, it came to the decision that [having at least] 12 months at home was more important than 12 months on the ground,” he said. “The decision to go back (to 12-month deployments) will be driven by the demand on forces in Iraq and Afghanistan.”
He said the 15-month tours have given commanders more flexibility in missions and more predictability for families and troops, making them a valuable tool so far.
Currently soldiers receive an additional $1,000 in pay for every month they serve beyond their first year in a combat zone.
Stars and Stripes reporter Leo Shane III contributed to this report.