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Navy Changes Deployment Policy
Virginia Pilot  |  By Jack Dorsey  |  March 09, 2007
NORFOLK -- The Navy is changing its deployment policy for the first time in 22 years, telling sailors they could face longer periods at sea because of the demands of war.

However, the policy reaffirms the Navy's promise that once they return home, they can spend an equal amount of time there before the next deployment.

The plan has the flexibility to increase some deployments to seven months compared with the normal six-month assignments, the Navy said this week.

Efforts will be made to keep deployments to six months, officials said, and if any cruise must last beyond seven months, the Navy's top admiral must be asked for permission.

Although the policy assures sailors as much time at home as on deployment, there could be exceptions. They could be ordered back to sea during a military emergency such as last year's crisis in Lebanon, or escalation of the war in Iraq or Afghanistan.

In comparison to the Navy, troops on the ground in Iraq are enduring year-long deployments.

The reaffirmation of at-home time helps sailors better manage their family lives, said Capt. Mike Durkin, director of Global Force Management for Fleet Forces Command in Norfolk.

"The fleet is more available now in this process than it was under the old one, and it reduces the uncertainty about when a deployment will come," he said.

Under the previous system, periods at home could be short and unpredictable.

The new policy being implemented is good news for sailors such as Petty Officer 2nd Class LaShay Chambliss, a yeoman aboard the amphibious assault ship Kearsarge in Norfolk.

"It's extremely helpful for me," the 24-year-old mother of a 5-year-old son said Thursday. "I am a single parent, and it helps me plan better."

When Chambliss goes to sea, she takes her son for care to her parents' home in South Carolina, she said. She's been deployed three times before.

Her commanding officer recently announced details of the plan to the Kearsarge crew, then took questions, Chambliss said.

"In my opinion, the general reaction was that everybody was pretty excited about it," she said. "I think it will be a big morale booster."

Sailors have been concerned since the Navy announced about three years ago it might send ships to sea more often, surging them ahead of their normal schedules because of the war on terrorism.

Many worried they couldn't make long-range plans and family routines would be disrupted.

Formerly called the Personnel Tempo of Operations Program, one method used to track ships, squadrons or units on deployment is called "dwell," a term now used by all services, Durkin said.

Dwell is the ratio of the time on a unit's last deployment to the time that unit spends in home port. The term replaces what the Navy called "turn around time."

Dwell time -- the period at home -- will be strictly measured, Durkin said.

Under old rules, it took a 56-day minimum for a trip to be counted as a "deployment."

It was not unusual for ships to steam for 56 days, return to port for a week, steam for another 56 days and return home for three weeks, then go to sea for another 56 days, Durkin said, just to get around having to owe sailors time they deserved to be home.

"Now that 56-day rule has gone away, so that a sailor who deploys for, say 56 days, will get credit for that time and will come home and get 56 days of dwell before he is eligible to deploy again," he said.

Under the policy change, any time -- even a day -- spent deployed will be counted as deployed time, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Mullen said in a message to the fleet.

"We are deliberately taking action to strike the right balance between our need to provide rotational forward forces, our obligation to prepare forces for major contingencies and crisis, and our time at home," he wrote.

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