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Army prioritizing 37,000 GIs for first combat tours

ARLINGTON, Va. — The Army is prioritizing 37,000 soldiers for assignment to units heading downrange after a records review showed that four in 10 on active duty have never deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan.

Many of the 40.6 percent of soldiers who have not gone downrange have valid reasons: They are in boot camp, assigned to units that are scheduled to Iraq or Afghanistan, or are not eligible to deploy.

But after scrutinizing Army personnel records, Human Resources Command officials in Alexandria, Va., have identified 37,000 soldiers who have yet to deploy and have no reason not to serve in combat.

Personnel officials “will prioritize these soldiers for assignment” to combat zones, Col. Louis Henkel, deputy director of the Enlisted Personnel Management Directorate at HRC, said in a Tuesday e-mail to a Stars and Stripes query.

Those orders might be for a soldier to report to a new brigade combat team or other unit that is deploying to combat zones, as an individual augmentee to fill an empty slot somewhere in a unit already deployed or for a military transition team, which advise and mentor members of the Afghan or Iraq military or police forces, Henkel said.

With no immediate end in sight to the deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan and multiple tours becoming the norm in many units, personnel officials at HRC decided to determine which active-duty troops have yet to go downrange, and why.

Henkel would not say whether any of the 37,000 soldiers who have never deployed might have purposely avoided combat.

Instead, he said, the 7.2 percent of soldiers who have never deployed “are soldiers who have not been afforded the opportunity to deploy.”

Nor would Henkle quantify the number of soldiers among the 37,000 who may have volunteered to deploy but were turned down.

“The number that have volunteered is not a factor,” Henkle said. “The important factor is providing the opportunity to all that have not deployed.”

Among the never-deployed troops, 27.1 percent work in health services.

Other areas where records indicate never-deployed soldiers tend to work are operations support, particularly in the fields of space operations, foreign area officers, nuclear and counter-proliferation, signal, telecommunication systems engineering, strategic plans and policy, simulation operations and information systems management.

In Iraq, a soldier from the Fort Stewart, Ga.-based 3rd Infantry Division’s 2nd Brigade, Spc. Christopher Boza-Berrios, told Stripes he hopes to see the soldiers who haven’t deployed in downrange locations soon.

“They need to pay their dues,” Boza-Berrios, a headquarters company, 26th Brigade Support Battalion troop serving a 15-month tour, said Wednesday.

Soldiers who have repeatedly deployed deserve some rest, said Sgt. Reginald Alston of Company A, 26th Brigade Support Battalion, who is serving his third tour.

“We want to be home with our family, too, instead of a year here and months back home.”

Stars and Stripes reporter Erik Slavin contributed to this story.


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