Army mulls shorter Iraq, Afghanistan tours, security conditions permitting
April 9, 2005
ARLINGTON, Va. — Army leaders are actively considering shortening yearlong combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan to nine or even six months, according to Lt. Gen. Franklin L. Hagenbeck, the Army deputy chief of staff for personnel.
But the condensed deployments are out of the question unless the security situation in Iraq permits the number of U.S. forces in that country to drop, Hagenbeck told Pentagon reporters Thursday.
Six-month and nine-month deployments are “on the table for consideration,” Hagenbeck said. “We think that multiple, shorter tours are the ideal way to go.”
However, “whether that frequency can be reached isn’t [a decision] that’s going to be made inside the Army,” Hagenbeck said. “Conditions in Iraq are going to drive it.”
The Army has the lion’s share of the current Iraq deployment of about 138,000 U.S. personnel, with at least 100,000 soldiers deployed.
“And as long as we have the current [level of] effort, we will continue to have a 12-month dwell time,” Hagenbeck said.
However, there’s no question that shorter tours would not only be easier on soldiers, they would also represent “less strain on families,” Hagenbeck said.
There are benefits to long tours. Income earned in combat zones in tax-free.
“I will tell you, six months of tax exclusion … the wives love it,” Hagenbeck said. “They like that.”
But “offsetting that [tax advantage] with 12 months is questionable in many of their minds,” according to postdeployment surveys filled out by Army spouses, Hagenbeck said.
Army families aren’t the only potential beneficiaries of shorter combat deployments, Hagenbeck said: Shorter tours might also help convince parents, teachers and athletic coaches not to discourage possible Army recruits from joining the service.
Recruiters are reporting that it is these authority figures, which recruiters call “influencers,” that are driving the Army’s current recruiting shortfalls, Hagenbeck said.
The influencers are recommending that young Americans wait to join the Army until Iraq’s direction is more firmly established, he said.
Asked whether influencers would find shorter tours more palatable for their young charges, Hagenbeck said, “We think so. That’s what the surveys say.”
But until now, Army leaders did not believe shorter tours in Iraq were an option — and not just because more frequent rotations would place too much logistics strain on the service, Hagenbeck said.
“Early on in the war in Iraq, the idea was to go in and come out six months later,” Hagenbeck said.
But when postwar Iraq operations proved to be much more extended than anticipated, “bringing in fresh troops on the ground would have been very foolish,” he said, “because you would have been taking green, novice soldiers in there, and commanders who didn’t know the terrain, the environment, the people, the culture.”
At this point, however, the Army has rotated more than 900,000 soldiers through Iraq and Afghanistan, Hagenbeck said, although he noted that “some of those are the same faces,” as in soldiers who have performed multiple tours.