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ARLINGTON, Va. — The Army hopes to give soldiers two years at home in between combat tours by the end of fiscal 2011, the Army’s deputy chief of staff for operations said Monday.

Right now, soldiers get about 12 months at home, known as dwell time.

President Bush announced earlier this month that Army tours to the U.S. Central Command theater of operations would go from 15 months to 12 months, which will begin to give soldiers the same amount of dwell time as they spend deployed.

But the active-duty Army is slated to grow to 547,000 by the end of fiscal 2011, and that would allow the Army to give soldiers more time at home, said Lt. Gen James D. Thurman.

At that time, the Army expects to have 15 active-duty Army brigade combat teams deployed — not including National Guard brigades — compared with 17 active-duty brigade combat teams deployed now, Thurman told reporters on Monday.

As an interim step, the Army hopes to give soldiers 18 months dwell time by the end of fiscal 2009, he said.

Ultimately, the Army would like to give soldiers three years dwell time for every year they spend deployed, but “I don’t see that happening right now based on current demands — the demand does exceed supply,” Thurman said.

Bush’s decision to shorten Army tours does not affect soldiers already in the theater, nor does it affect soldiers deploying to theater before Aug. 1.

The shorter tours were made possible by the reduction of the troop buildup in Iraq known as the “surge,” according to the Army.

The last of the five brigade combat teams that were part of the “surge” are expected to leave by the end of July. By then, the number of brigade combat teams in Iraq is expected to be 15.

In April 2007, Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced that Army tours to the CENTCOM theater would be extended from 12 to 15 months.

At the time, Gates said the move was meant to make sure that Army units got their full 12 months of dwell time.

“Without this action, we would have had to deploy five Army active-duty brigades sooner than the 12 months at home goal,” Gates said in an April 2007 news conference. “I believe it is fair to all soldiers that all share the burden equally.”

In February, Gates told Stars and Stripes he was “counting on” returning to 12-month deployments for soldiers this year, due in part to the Army’s success in recruiting and retention.

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