Many troops in S. Korea support reported move to shorter combat tours
SEOUL — Soldiers in South Korea, already well-acquainted with one-year tours away from their families, largely support a reported move by some Army leaders to consider shortening tours in combat zones like Iraq and Afghanistan.
According to a New York Times report this week, some senior Army officials say shortening combat tours to six to nine months would help stave off what could be a decline in recruiting and retention.
But other officials and some soldiers in Korea said shortened tours would have negative consequences, such as more frequent rotations and reduced combat effectiveness.
While the Times report said it was too early to say whether a new deployment policy is forthcoming, soldiers in South Korea reflected both sides of the issue. In interviews Tuesday, as most of the soldiers enjoyed the last of a four-day weekend for the Chusok holiday, many said all servicemembers on the ground in combat zones should be treated equally.
Army units are sent on one-year deployments, with the clock beginning to tick once they reach their temporary bases in the combat zone. Marine units, on the other hand, serve seven-month tours in the same areas.
“Sure, I think six-month tours to the desert would be better than one-year tours,” said Sgt. Brian Combs, a 2nd Infantry Division soldier who said he’d already served one tour in Iraq with his previous unit.
“I don’t see why you’d have one standard for Marines and one for the Army. If seven months is as long as the Marines send their guys, why shouldn’t the Army be doing the same thing?”
Another soldier said she was concerned about back-to-back, yearlong periods away from her family.
“If you’re in Korea for a year without your family, and your next unit goes to Iraq or Afghanistan right around when you transfer, that’s obviously a long time,” said Spc. Shavonne Curtis of the 18th Medical Command. “So six or nine months would probably be better.”
But, other military officials said, shorter tours likely would mean more rotations for all units — and, some said, more dangerous deployments.
“If it was traditional fighting or just peacekeeping, shorter rotations would be fine. But that’s not what’s happening in Iraq and Afghanistan,” said Staff Sgt. Nate Webb, who had served with the 10th Mountain Division in Afghanistan before an assignment to South Korea.
“One of the biggest things you have to do to stop insurgents is make friends with the locals, get them on your side,” Webb said. “It’s really hard to do that if the units are coming in and out every six months. And besides, it takes a few weeks before you even know what you’re doing when you first get out there.”
Shortening rotations also compresses the time units would have at home before being called upon again, others said.