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edition, Sunday, December 16, 2007

Sgt. 1st Class Charles Tingle’s four combat tours put him among the proud, the brave — and the few. Just 3 percent of active-duty soldiers, some 15,000, have served three tours or more in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to the Army’s Human Resources Command.

Tingle, now a battalion maintenance supervisor in Iraq, works in a field that’s in high demand in theater. Soldiers working in transportation are among those whose ranks have the highest percentage deployed and the most times deployed, according to the HRC.

“His skill set is in high demand,” said Col. Louis Henkle, deputy director of the Enlisted Personnel Management Directorate.

“We make assignments to determine which soldier goes to which assignment based on Army requirements, professional development and soldier preference.... Army requirements are number one.”

According to Col. Thomas Webb, who heads the Officer Management Directorate, and to Henkle, the assignments troops get — and subsequently whether they’ll be deploying for a first or a fifth time — depends on several factors: military specialty and rank among them.

“Timing is everything as well,” Webb said. “The first time you ask to go to Hawaii, and if there’s no (slot there), then you’re not going to Hawaii.”

Nearly all lieutenants — 97 percent — are assigned to operational units, Webb said, and so are likely to deploy. But there are far fewer slots for colonels in operational units. Officer assignment is also impacted by required stints at military schools as careers progress.

Soldiers working in many support fields are less likely to be repeatedly assigned to deploying units.

“For certain grades and certain skill sets, there’s a higher demand in theater,” Henkle said. “There is not as great a need for folks in the medical community or human resources,” for instance, as those in Special Forces, information operations and civil affairs, the top three fields with the greatest percentage of deployed soldiers, according to the HRC.

But the soldiers who have deployed most are in the infantry, quartermaster and ordnance fields, according to the HRC.

The command recently determined that a little more than 7 percent of soldiers who had not deployed — from among the more than 40 percent total who had not — should do so soon and prioritized them for assignments to deploying units.

Why they hadn’t deployed, when others had done so repeatedly was because they had been assigned to institutional Army units, primarily training units, as opposed to operational units.

“I wouldn’t attribute it to luckiness or unluckiness,” Henkle said. “It’s really a matter of opportunity to deploy. Have we given that 7 percent an opportunity to deploy? And we’ll do that as they’re reassignable.”

Henkle and Webb said the fact that 40 percent of active-duty soldiers had not deployed was not surprising.

“Every year, 85,000 come into the force who have not deployed, and you’re always going to have about 80,000 that leave,” Henkle said. “We’ll never be 100 percent because of the ebbs and flows.

“And we deploy units to theater; we don’t deploy individuals. It makes it a little harder to level the playing field.”

Henkle himself has not had an opportunity to deploy, he said. He’s retiring soon, so he doesn’t expect to get one.

author headshot
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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