WASHINGTON (Army News Service, April 13, 2007) - The Army will be able to sustain 20 combat brigades in Iraq for at least a year, officials said during a news conference yesterday.
The Army's policy change, announced by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates yesterday, extends the service of all active-duty Soldiers in the U.S. Central Command region to 15 months. All active-duty Army units headed to the command also will serve for 15 months.
This will allow the service to maintain the level of effort in the region for a year, Defense Secretary Gates said. The five-brigade surge in support of the Baghdad security plan calls for 20 U.S. brigades in Iraq by the end of May.
While the policy increases the tour length, it also guarantees that units will spend 12 months at home station. Had the service not gone to this policy, five brigades would have been sent back to Iraq less than a year after returning to their home stations, said Lt. Gen. James L. Lovelace, the Army's deputy chief of staff for operations. That would have meant less training for Soldiers going into combat.
"Our standard is (U.S. Soldiers) will not deploy unless they are the best-trained, best-led, best-equipped force there is," Lt. Gen. Lovelace said. "With the plus-up, we faced a situation with increasing probability of sending combat units into (U.S. Central Command) that did not have enough dwell time ... at home station in order to get trained."
Lt. Gen. Lovelace said the service asked for these changes. Army leaders "know this is a hard decision for those deployed, whose families are back at home station and for those about to deploy who thought they were going to deploy for a year," he said during the news conference. "We've been at war for more than five years now. American security and America's future is at stake. We're in it to win, and we take this very seriously. Our Soldiers understand this."
Lt. Gen. Lovelace said that Army leaders decided that sending units to Central Command early was not an option. Typically a unit comes back to its home station and Soldiers take block leave while the unit's equipment is shipped back. The next few months are a reset time for the unit; Soldiers leave for training, professional military education, reassignment, retirement or separation. At the same time new Soldiers arrive; new equipment is brought in; and older equipment is fixed.
The next stage concentrates on training Soldiers on individual skills needed in combat, followed by unit training. This culminates in the mission readiness exercise. This is a rehearsal of the mission that the unit will perform in combat. Upon completion, the unit prepares to go back to combat operations.
Units must have a year at home station to accomplish all this, Lt. Gen. Lovelace said.
Soldiers will receive extra compensation for the time over one year they spend deployed in Iraq.
"When you go over the 12-month time period, the compensation shifts," said Mr. Roy Wallace, the director of plans and resources in the Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff for Personnel. "Another $200 is added to hardship duty pay and another $800 is added to assignment incentive pay, for a total of $1,000."
All money earned in the combat zone is tax free for enlisted, as is part of officers' pay.
In addition, the Army is aware of its responsibility to families, the officials said. The Army will adapt many of the solutions found when the 172nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team was extended in Iraq in 2006.
"When the 172nd was extended, a decision was made to stand up a Department of the Army 'tiger team,' ... to reinforce the capabilities of the unit in the garrison," said Army Col. Dennis Dingle, director of the Human Resources Policy Office. "Some of the things that we were able to do is streamline the processes and not have all of the issues go through the ordinary channels to get to the Department of the Army, and we were able to quickly fix a number of those issues that face our soldiers and families."
(Mr. Jim Garamone writes for the American Forces Press Service.)