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HEIDELBERG, Germany — Tough, thorough and relevant training for soldiers before they deploy to Iraq and Afghanistan is Gen. Carter Ham’s top priority. But it’s not the only one.

Ham has been assessing U.S. Army Europe policies and programs since his arrival as commander at the beginning of the month. He sees room for improvement.

On family support, he said, "I think we’re doing OK."

"First, they want their soldiers home," Ham said. "Next they want predictability. That’s a big rock in my rucksack."

Letting people know how often they’ll deploy and how much time they’ll have between deployments is difficult as the U.S. continues to call on its soldiers to fight two wars now in their fifth and seventh years and transform all at the same time — and with a new administration taking over in four months.

During a trip to Iraq last week, Ham and commanders there discussed the difficulty of repeatedly getting troops and equipment ready to deploy again after one year’s "dwell time," and spoke of how superior 24 months between deployments would be.

"A year sounds like a long time. But there’s block leave, returning equipment, schools …," Ham said. "You want to deploy them as well-trained as you can but you don’t want to deploy them tired. We want to give them as much time as we can at home."

Ham also said he’d like to find ways to lower the number of spouses who return to the U.S. during deployments and then are more distant from news of the deployment and support from Family Readiness Groups.

"I’m concerned we have so many families going back to the States when the soldiers deploy," Ham said. "I’d like for them to stay. I think we have a lot to offer."

He is also highly interested in ensuring that warrior transition units for wounded soldiers get the resources they need, with the right people working at them.

"When a soldier joins the Army, we make a commitment," Ham said. "You get wounded, we’re going to take care of you."

In Vicenza’s WTU, Ham noticed storage systems, locally made a reasonable cost that also provided privacy for soldiers sharing rooms. "So why aren’t we sharing it?"

"Our enemy at the WTUs is complacency," he said. "They’ll stay pretty high on my priorities list."

While families have been the focus of recent Army efforts to ease deployment strains, V Corps and acting USAREUR Sgt. Maj. Ralph Beam has told Ham that housing and services for single soldiers need attention. In fact, barracks for enlisted troops in some USAREUR garrisons are expected to become more crowded when troops return from deployment.

Ham said he and Diane Devens, the new head of the Installation Management Command-Europe, would work together to see what solutions they could find.

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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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