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BAUMHOLDER, Germany — U.S. Army Europe has not yet requested a waiver from the secretary of defense to send a Baumholder-based 1st Armored Division unit back to Iraq only nine months after its last deployment, Pentagon officials said Tuesday.

Although USAREUR officials maintained Tuesday that commanders had “some leeway” to resolve dwell time issues, only Defense Secretary Robert Gates can make that decision, Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said Tuesday.

If a waiver is sought and granted, Company A of the 1st Battalion, 6th Infantry Regiment is facing a third straight Christmas away from home.

Whitman said the policy requiring a waiver from the Pentagon “obviously” applies to the company.

In a statement issued Tuesday, USAREUR officials said the command will not do anything that is contrary to guidance from its higher headquarters. But, the statement continued, “We want to emphasize that the 2nd BCT 1AD and the units assigned to it, to include A/1-6, are on Prepare to Deploy orders. In the absence of orders to the contrary, we can’t assume that the BCT or any of its units will not deploy or would be delayed after the normal deployment window.”

USAREUR officials would not say whether they intended to ask Gates for a waiver to the unit’s deployment orders.

“Internal, operational communications between USAREUR and higher commands are not public information. Therefore it would not be appropriate to discuss when or if a request has been made,” said USAREUR spokesman Bruce Anderson in the statement.

Ultimately, it will be up to Gates to decide whether to allow USAREUR to deploy Company A three months early, Whitman said.

In April, when Gates altered Army policy and extended tours from 12 months to 15 months, part of the rationale was to ensure that returning units would receive a full 12 months of at-home rest, known as dwell time.

On Friday, USAREUR said it would deploy the company with the rest of the 2nd Brigade in November even though Company A didn’t return from Iraq until February. The announcement, however, appears to have been premature.

Shortly after USAREUR’s Friday statement, Gates and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Marine Gen. Peter Pace, said in response to a question at a Pentagon press briefing that no one from USAREUR had asked for a waiver to deploy the unit. Before a waiver to break dwell time can be granted, commanders must explain to Gates why it is necessary and why another unit can’t fill that spot.

To date, Gates has not gotten a waiver request from any unit in the U.S. Army to break the 12-month dwell time policy, Whitman said Tuesday.

“No, I can’t recall one,” Whitman said.

Soon after the Pentagon’s May 8 announcement for troop rotations in November, which included the 1st Armored Division’s 2nd Brigade Combat Team, questions emerged about whether one of the brigade’s units should be going.

After the matter was brought to light, defense officials were prompted to look into why the unit was not getting its full 12 months of dwell time.

USAREUR officials then asked the 2nd BCT to not deploy Company A with the rest of the brigade until the unit gets its full 12 months per Army policy, Whitman said on May 11. Later, Army officials said the matter was under review by the “whole chain of command.”

In Tuesday’s statement, USAREUR said, “Commanders do have some leeway to make personnel adjustments, cross-leveling, within their unit. Commanders at all levels within USAREUR have been doing this to the extent possible to resolve dwell time issues. However, there still are soldiers who will be affected because the options are limited — but this is truly the exception and not the rule.”

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John covers U.S. military activities across Europe and Africa. Based in Stuttgart, Germany, he previously worked for newspapers in New Jersey, North Carolina and Maryland. He is a graduate of the University of Delaware.
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