Sgt. Maj. of the Army Kenneth O. Preston gets off a Black Hawk on Sunday at Forward Operating Base Loyalty in Baghdad.

Sgt. Maj. of the Army Kenneth O. Preston gets off a Black Hawk on Sunday at Forward Operating Base Loyalty in Baghdad. (James Warden / S&S)

BAGHDAD — Sgt. Maj. of the Army Kenneth O. Preston said Sunday that he is optimistic leaders will trim down the Army’s current 15-month deployments by this summer.

Preston visited troops at Forward Operating Base Loyalty in central Baghdad for a re-enlistment ceremony and to talk with them about their concerns. He told his audience that leaders are waiting to make a decision on deployment length until Gen. David Petraeus, the senior American commander in Iraq, returns to the United States with his assessment on the situation in Iraq. Petraeus should make that assessment in late spring or early summer.

The shorter tours would only apply to those units who deploy after the decision, Preston said in a brief interview after talking with the soldiers. Units already in Iraq would still stay for 15 months to give those who just left sufficient time at home.

The Army’s progress toward growing and restructuring its force is making the situation more favorable for shorter deployments, he said. The Army has been steadily growing the number of brigade combat teams and now has 38, up from 33 in June 2004. That number should reach 40 by the end of the summer and 42 by the end of 2008.

“We’re growing units right now faster than we can build barracks and headquarters and motor pools,” he said.

Reserve components have also agreed to another round of deployments that will help shorten deployment times, Preston said. Army leaders have promised those deployments would not last more than a year, with about nine months of that actually spent in Iraq.

In the past, President Bush authorized a 24-month deployment schedule for guard units. With train-up periods, that usually meant units were gone for 19 months at a time, and some were gone as long as 22 months.

While the Army has more units available to handle the workload, the drawdown from the “surge” should decrease the number of units actually needed, he said. The Army deployed 18 brigade combat teams in Iraq during the “surge” plus two in Afghanistan. Two brigades have already left Iraq without being replaced, and all five should be gone by July.

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