HEIDELBERG, Germany — Trying to plan their lives after deployment, the soldiers had sent in requests for extensions or another tour in Germany. But even as they battled insurgents in some of the deadliest places in Iraq, they were getting nowhere in the long, hard slog that can be the Army’s personnel system.

“A lot were coming back to us returned without action,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Steven McClaflin of the 1st Battalion, 26th Infantry Regiment. “When we asked what that meant, no one could tell us. Bottom line — about 20 percent were actually getting approved.”

Enter, via Black Hawk helicopter, a crack team of personnel experts.

Armed with laptops, databases, and direct phone numbers to the Human Resources Command, the team from V Corps and the 1st Personnel Command made short work out of what is usually a lengthy and sometimes frustrating process.

In about four weeks, at five spots in Iraq and one in Kuwait, the team provided more than 950 soldiers of the 2nd “Dagger” Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division with help getting what they wanted — whether it was extending in Germany, leaving Germany early, getting an in-place consecutive overseas tour or a spot in an Army school.

They did it all in minutes or hours, instead of the usual weeks or months, said Col. Joe Gill, V Corps’ G1 and the team leader.

“We were able to give them some predictability, in real-time.”

And this time, soldiers unhappy with new assignments were not expected to suck it up.

“I was able to say, ‘Complain to me. Let’s work this out.’”

It was the first time a personnel team was sent out to help deployed soldiers where they were fighting. The idea came to Lt. Gen. Kenneth Hunzeker, Gill said, during a meeting discussing the hardship on the brigade’s soldiers deployed to Iraq for 15 months.

V Corps wanted to ease that transition and “get ahead of the game,” as Gill put it.

“We wanted them to know the Army cares, Europe cares,” Gill said. “We wanted to give them the opportunity to come to us and express what they were facing. Things they might not put down on a piece of paper.”

Spc. Cory Raby, in the 1-26th’s Company C, had put things down on paper, twice. But both requests to stay with his unit after his deployment went nowhere, lost on the trip through the bureaucracy. Then he had orders for Fort Riley, Kan.

“I thought I was pretty much SOL,” he said.

Within two hours, the team had tracked down his missing paperwork, called the Human Resources Command and gotten his assignment changed. “I have two more years here now,” he said.

All told, the team worked 124 extensions and in-place consecutive overseas tours, 69 intra-theater transfers and low cost moves, 64 curtailments and changes to new-assignment reporting dates, and 280 requests for Army schools.

It won’t be the last time this help is offered downrange, Gill said.

“This worked, and it is a service we plan to provide to the other units that are down there,” he said.

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Nancy is an Italy-based reporter for Stars and Stripes who writes about military health, legal and social issues. An upstate New York native who served three years in the U.S. Army before graduating from the University of Arizona, she previously worked at The Anchorage Daily News and The Seattle Times. Over her nearly 40-year journalism career she’s won several regional and national awards for her stories and was part of a newsroom-wide team at the Anchorage Daily News that was awarded the 1989 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service.

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