Harvey: Troops could be kept past their duty expirations
YONGSAN GARRISON, South Korea — Do not expect a change in the number of active-duty soldiers kept in service worldwide due to stop-loss over the next year, Army Secretary Francis Harvey said at Yongsan Garrison on Friday.
As part of his tour of U.S. Forces Korea facilities, Harvey also talked with Stars and Stripes about issues including wartime command transfer of South Korean troops.
Drawing down present levels of deployment is not planned, meaning from 6,000 to 7,000 soldiers could be kept in service past their commitment expirations, Harvey said.
Soldiers can be kept in the Army starting 90 days before a deployment and ending 90 days after they return, meaning they potentially could spend an additional 18 months in uniform.
However, Harvey said he believes that neither stop-loss nor combat deployment of some units for the third and fourth time have hurt morale. His key measure of morale: retention rates showing two of three eligible soldiers re-enlist.
“We are very, very sensitive to the amount of stress on our forces,” Harvey said.
Deployed units have a higher overall retention level than those not deployed, Harvey said. He cited as a prime example the 10th Mountain Division in Afghanistan, which has served three deployed tours and re-enlists at very high rates.
“It says to me, ‘I like what I’m doing … I know I can make a difference,’” Harvey said.
How long the Army can put units on so many deployments and still keep high retention levels is something Harvey said he would follow closely.
While overall retention remains high, junior officers have been leaving in larger numbers since the beginning of the Iraq war, according to Army figures. In response, the Army has been offering additional financial and educational incentives.
Meanwhile, Harvey declined to name an exact date when South Korea will take over wartime command of its own troops. Currently, the Combined Forces Command, led by U.S. Army Gen. B.B. Bell, heads all wartime forces in South Korea. News reports citing unnamed U.S. defense officials have said the transfer is to happen by 2009.
Details of the transfer still are being worked out, Harvey said.
When South Korea does take control, South Korean forces “will be fully capable and fully ready,” he said.
Pentagon official Richard Lawless told the House International Relations Committee Wednesday that a 2009 hand-over of wartime command was ambitious but achievable and that South Korea and other Asian allies welcome the transfer.
However, many former South Korean military officials dispute Lawless’ assessment. South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun supports the transfer but opposition conservatives have held sizable rallies attended by former generals who oppose the move.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.