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edition, Sunday, December 16, 2007

After his third deployment, Sgt. 1st Class Charles Tingle started to think maybe he had done his bit for the global war on terror.

He had bivouacked in Afghanistan. “We lived like animals pretty much,” he said.

He had invaded Iraq. “We never stopped rolling,” said Tingle, a mechanic. “Just not sleeping for a year, always having eyes in the back of your head.”

He had spent thousands of hours on convoys, fixed who-knows-how-many broken vehicles and, although not part of his job description, worked a nightmarish job with mortuary affairs. “Part of my life I’ll never talk about,” he said.

His grandfather died during Tingle’s first Iraq tour — he heard the news three weeks later. His wife’s parents both died on another. “They let me go on leave for 10 days,” he said. “I didn’t make it to the funeral, of course, because it took me three days to get home.”

He has been married 10 years, but has spent nearly half that time thousands of miles from his wife, whose patience with him — his absence, followed by a rocky readjustment, followed by his absence — he treasures. Most of their friends have divorced, he said, but his wife has stood by him.

“She’s a good woman,” he said.

So when his request was denied to leave Fort Campbell, Ky., after a third combat tour and go to Fort Bliss, Texas — an area near relatives and to a unit that wasn’t deploying — and he instead got orders to go to Fort Riley, Kan., Tingle protested.

“I said, ‘You all know Riley’s deploying, right?’

“They said, ‘You’re going to Third Brigade. They’re not deploying for two years.’

“So I get there, they put me in First Brigade, and they were going out the door.”

Tingle is now on his fourth combat tour, based this time at Camp Taji. None of his tours have been a cakewalk, he said, and he’s been treated in the past for post traumatic stress disorder.

His current tour, which began in September, is actually the best of the lot. “Now I’m in a staff job,” he said. “I won’t be on the road. The stress level is a lot less.”

A 40-year-old Alabama native who joined the Army Reserve at age 16, Tingle has no complaints about U.S. foreign policy or his commanders, and he wants people to know he’s not a malcontent.

What irks Tingle, who’s working on a master’s degree in history and hopes to teach after he retires, is having had so many deployments when other soldiers haven’t deployed as much, or in some cases, at all.

“At the end of the last tour, I got back and there was a lot of people who hadn’t deployed yet,” Tingle said. “And then I came down on assignment for Fort Riley and I started thinking, ‘Something’s just not right.’ ”

Among the people he knows now at Taji, he said, are a few men on their third deployments and one other on his fourth. “But I’d say the majority are on their first,” he said.

“There should be a limit on it. Or it should be managed more fairly. How come we’re not getting a break?”

His wife, Melinda, wonders the same thing.

“After the first deployment, I thought, ‘OK, you did what you have to do.’ After the second deployment, I thought, ‘OK, I can handle that.’ But after that I thought, ‘This is wrong.’ If he were Special Forces, I’d understand. But he’s not.”

Now living with her sister in Texas, she said the marriage has been strained by the deployments, as well as the readjustment periods when he returns. He’s nervous and doesn’t sleep, she said, and it takes several months for them to regain their footing.

They’ve wanted to start a family, she said, but how can they? It’s a life spent yearning, worrying and waiting.

“Oh, gosh, it’s been crazy hard,” she said. “It’s a never-ending cycle. It’s very tiring.”

But it’s not her words that are most illustrative of her difficulties. Throughout a 20-minute interview, she cried softly.

Tingle’s protests haven’t changed anything for him, but he keeps trying. He contacted his branch manager, who decides a soldier’s next unit, but said he was told they could do nothing for him and that he should call the Human Resources Command.

Which he did. “What they like to do is blame it on your chain of command. But your chain of command has nothing to do with it. It’s just the old Army runaround. I guess they think after a while you’ll get tired and just stop. But I’m not like that.”

Tingle has set a goal during the next year in Iraq to write every member of Congress and ask that something is done to change the system that has sent him to war for what will be five years. “I figure I’m about three-quarters of the way through Congress,” he said.

He plans to retire in three years — he figures he might come up on one more deployment — after 20 years of service. He has never received a re-enlistment bonus, and except for his deployments and a tour in Korea, an assignment outside the continental United States.

“I figured I’d pull an Alaska tour, a Hawaii tour, or a Germany tour but it never happened,” he said. “I never really had a station of choice.”

He said he’d asked for an assignment just once, to Fort Bliss, and that that was denied.

“It’s an all-volunteer Army; I understand that,” he said. “I never had a doubt I was going to make a career out of it. I just didn’t know it was going to go this way.”

Army deployment figures

Of 515,000 active-duty soldiers:

200,000 (39%) have one combat tour.70,000 (15.6%) have two tours.15,000 (3%) have three or more tours.Who deploys most

59.5 percent of enlisted personnel have deployed; 62 percent of officers have deployedTop military occupational specialties deployed by number: Infantry; quatermaster, ordnance, aviation, signal, health services, field artillery, transportation, military intelligence and armor.Top MOS deployed by percentage: Special Forces, information operations, civil affairs, ordnance, PSYOP strategic plannings, comptroller, foreign area officer, infantry, transportation, aviation.Who hasn’t deployed

Of the 40.6 percent of all soliders have not deployed at all.

1.6 percent are nondeployable (medical condition, legal status, family problem).8.7 percent are new soldiers in basic training or Advanced Individual Training.10.8 percent in unit scheduled to deploy.10 percent in operational unit without current deployment orders (such as Korea-based troops).0.6 percent drill sergeants or recruiters.27 percent work in health services.7.2 percent identified as prioritized for assignment to combat zones.Source: Army’s Human Resources Command

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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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