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European edition, Friday, May 11, 2007

KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany — By the time Drueanna Newman’s husband is finished with his extended tour, 27 of his last 36 months will have been spent in Iraq.

So when Capt. Randall Newman finally comes home, she asked, what’s being done to guarantee he gets his 12-month “dwell time”?

At a town hall-style meeting Thursday in Kaiserslautern, which dealt with tour extensions and the new 15-month deployment plan, Drueanna Newman came prepared with a list of questions. Dwell time, or at-home rest, was at the top of the list of things she wanted to ask about.

Newman, whose husband is with the 618th Movement Control Team, highlighted the case of a company of soldiers out of Baumholder who are heading back to Iraq after only nine months at home.

Soldiers with Company A, 1st Battalion, 6th Infantry, 1st Armored Division, learned Tuesday they are scheduled to deploy in November.

Col. Dennis Dingle, director of Human Resources policy, said part of the reason for “up to 15-month” tours was to achieve 12-month dwell times. To ensure a year at home, some extraordinary steps were needed, he said.

About 200 soldiers and family members attended the town hall meeting, which was part of a weeklong tour through Germany by Army human resources officials from Washington.

Soldiers and family members raised questions ranging from frustrations about money lost on booked vacations because of tour extensions to programs that will help children cope with having a deployed parent.

One soldier wanted to know what the impact of longer tours will be on his wallet. When tours are extended beyond 12 months, soldiers now receive an extra $1,000 for each month of the extension. With a 15-month tour, he asked, will soldiers have to wait until month 16 for the extra money, or will 366 days still be the trigger?.

Dingle said 366 days will still be the trigger.

“It’s something you deserve,” he said.

What about R&R, another soldier asked. With a 15-month tour, will more time be granted?

“They are looking at that,” Dingle answered, referring to Central Command.

In response to a question about whether more could be done to coordinate the dwell time of spouses who are both soldiers, Dingle said: “We need to be realistic about what we can commit to. We’re an expeditionary Army.”

For some family members, there are fears that tours of up to 15 months will turn into extended 18-month deployments.

When it comes to extending tours, the Office of the Secretary of Defense reviews each case.

“They don’t make those decisions lightly,” Dingle said.

Another question dealt with equity. Why are some soldiers on second and third tours, while others haven’t deployed once? Why can’t the Army factor in time already spent downrange in determining who goes next? The Air Force has such a system, why doesn’t the Army, Newman asked.

With the Army’s stated plan to grow by 60,000, there will be more flexibility in the future, Dingle said. For now, though, deployments must be driven by the needs of commanders on the ground.

“I know that’s probably not the answer you want to hear,” Dingle said.

While that wasn’t the answer she was hoping for, Newman said she thought the town hall meeting was productive and that many of her questions were answered. She was less positive about whether her husband will get the dwell time he is due.

“I’m not confident at all,” Newman said.

Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said Thursday that while “the policy goal is 12 months dwell time,” individual transfers between units mean that some individuals will be “out of cycle” and not get the full year at home.

Regarding how Company A of the 1-6 got on the deployment roster at just nine months, Whitman said, “We’re still looking into that particular company.”

Stars and Stripes reporter Lisa Burgess contributed to this story.

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John covers U.S. military activities across Europe and Africa. Based in Stuttgart, Germany, he previously worked for newspapers in New Jersey, North Carolina and Maryland. He is a graduate of the University of Delaware.

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