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VICENZA, Italy — Predictability in times of war is nearly impossible.

But a new plan being tested by the Army might change that.

The "reset" plan, as it’s being called, would not only give troops more time between deployments, but also give them more time in their own beds.

Army leaders have tapped 13 units — eight active duty and five from the reserve component — to test the plan. If successful it will be implemented throughout the Army in about five years, when the last of the units completes the trial period.

One of those units is the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team, based in Italy and Germany and currently returning to Europe after a 15-month deployment to Afghanistan.

"[The reset] adds predictability to soldiers’ and their families’ lives, more than they have had before to this level," said Col. Jeff Douville, assistant chief of staff in logistics for Southern European Task Force (Airborne), based in Vicenza.

As the plan currently is written, planning for troops’ return home will begin 180 days before the unit leaves the combat zone, and continue until the unit sets out again — ideally after 15 months of dwell time at home. In the next few years, planners hope to stretch the dwell time to 24 months before a unit has to again set out for a combat zone, Douville said.

"Currently, we’re an imbalanced force. We’re taxed right now where demand exceeds supply," Douville said. "The reset plan is designed to create a steady state for the Army, a predictable process of restoring units to a high state of readiness."

The goal of the second phase of the reset plan calls for no off-base or overnight training in the first six months of a unit returning home, he said.

"That lends a level of predictability that I never had in 24 years of active-duty service," he said, smiling.

The third and final phase is when units will undergo its "collective training" cycle to restore the unit to a full level of readiness.

Soldiers and spouses interviewed welcomed the plan’s concept.

"We need it. It would help out a lot and make it easier to retain even more soldiers," said Staff Sgt. Gerald Ward, with Company E, 1st Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team. He returned home to Vicenza on Thursday afternoon after 13 months in Afghanistan, serving as a mechanic and the unit’s re-enlistment noncommissioned officer.

"The first or second question [soldiers] ask me is if they are eligible for a non-deployable unit.… I tell them we can’t make any promises."

Belinda Lopez and her husband, Staff Sgt. Francisco Lopez, with Company A, 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team, tried to plan the birth of their daughter Milana around his deployments.

It didn’t work out.

Lopez saw his daughter for the first time when she already was 1 month old.

"It would be so nice to plan our lives around something like that," said Belinda Lopez, whose husband has set out three times on yearlong deployments in their six years of marriage.

While "resetting" the Army’s deployment cycle still is years out, units have introduced tangible programs and changes to ease them into back to home life that the soldiers see today.

Army units have many programs to take the soldiers out of the pressure cooker of a war zone. Returning soldiers, for example, must report to work for the first week they return, but only report for half a day. It gives commanders a chance to "have eye on every soldier" during that first critical week of integration, said Renee Citron, deputy garrison commander at Vicenza, ensuring all are accounted for and soldiers can decompress from a war zone before setting out on the 30-day block leave.

The soldiers report to reintegration areas, where "one-stop shopping" services are provided to them, said Larry Kilgore, director of plans, training, mobilization and security for the U.S. Army garrison Vicenza. Booths or tables are set up to handle everything from taking passport renewal applications to updating driving licenses, getting fuel cards, finalizing orders to move to another base, and voter registration, to name a few.


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