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Pentagon: Mattis’ 'deploy or get out' policy is working

Soldiers with the 3rd Infantry Division provide extra security for a 1st Security Force Assistance Brigade advisor mission during an Afghan-led operation near Kabul, Afghanistan, Sept. 16, 2018.

SEAN KIMMONS/U.S. ARMY

By COREY DICKSTEIN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: October 2, 2018

WASHINGTON — The Defense Department has reduced the number of servicemembers listed as undeployable by more than 100,000 in the eight months since the Pentagon announced its new ‘deploy or out’ policy, defense officials said Tuesday.

As of Aug. 31, 126,000 servicemembers, or roughly 6 percent of the military’s total force, which includes active duty, reserve and National Guard troops, were listed in a nondeployable status, according to the Pentagon. In January, just before Defense Secretary Jim Mattis announced he would implement the new policy, the Pentagon reported there were 235,000 troops, or 11 percent of the force, listed as nondeployable.

The policy is meant to motivate the thousands of troops who have remained in uniform despite being unable to deploy to take the necessary steps to return to deployable status, officials have said. Troops can be placed on nondeployable status for a variety of reasons including medical conditions, fitness problems and administrative reasons. The vast majority of troops who cannot attain deployable status within one year will be selected for involuntary removal from the service by their commanders, according to the policy.

Mattis, who announced the policy in February, said it would ensure the burden of deploying was better spread throughout the military force and it would increase combat readiness because more servicemembers would be available to deploy.

Servicemembers who cannot deploy “need to find something else to do,” he said at the time. “I’m not going to have some people deploying constantly and then other people, who seem not to pay that price, in the U.S. military.”

The new policy requires each service to track the number of nondeployable servicemembers in its ranks and report them to Mattis. Though the service was officially implemented Monday, the services began reporting to Mattis on a voluntary basis earlier this year as they worked to determine the scope of the problem.

The policy does not represent a dramatic change for the military, said Mike Melillo, the Pentagon’s deputy director for force management. The Pentagon has long had policies in place to remove troops for medical and administrative reasons, but the new policy is designed to streamline that process and inspire servicemembers who want to remain in uniform to maintain deployable status.

Troops are already taking it seriously, Melillo said, citing the improving statistics during the course of the year.

“What we’ve seen in the lead up to this … we’ve seen some of those readiness numbers, those nondeployable numbers come down,” he said. “It’s the impact the secretary had hoped to see.”

Some troops will be exempted from the new policy, said Patricia Mulcahy, the director of officer and enlisted personnel management. Exempted servicemembers include troops injured in combat and pregnant and postpartum women. Servicemembers within three years of retirement can be granted an exemption and service secretaries can approve other exemptions on a case-by-case basis.

The Pentagon’s goal is to bring each of the military services to a maximum of 5 percent of its force in a nondeployable state at any time, Mulcahy said.

Some of the military services had already reached the goal, Mulcahy said. However, she declined to identify which services had reached the goal or provide specific statistics for each service, citing security concerns.

Of the 126,000 servicemembers listed in nondeployable status as of Aug. 31, 66,000 were unable to deploy due to an illness or injury, according to Pentagon statistics. More so, 24,000 of the unable to deploy troops were considered permanently nondeployable and would likely face the possibility of being removed from the service.

The August numbers were the most recent available, officials said. Statistics for September are not expected to be published until later this month.

Pentagon officials do not envision a massive dismissal of nondeployabe troops in the coming months, Mulcahy said.

So far, servicemembers seem to be accepting the message and committing to stay in a deployable status as much as possible, she said.

“This policy was not designed to push people out,” Mulcahy said. “It is to reinforce and emphasize to get our nondeployable members back to a deployable status.”

dickstein.corey@stripes.com
Twitter: @CDicksteinDC

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