Army Still Stretched By Iraq
United Press International
October 20, 2004
WASHINGTON - More than 27 percent of the military's active duty troops are overseas, and more than half
of them are in combat zones, numbers not seen since the Vietnam War, a new study
The study from a consortium of security policy think tanks and advocacy groups
warns that the stress the Iraq war is placing on the military's personnel and
equipment could reach a breaking point in as little as two years.
"We haven't seen a split like that since Vietnam," said Carl Conetta,
co-director of the Project on Defense Alternatives.
U.S. forces are probably going to continue to be in Iraq in those numbers for
the long haul, which raises concerns about readiness, morale and retention,
according to defense analysts involved in the Security Policy Working Group.
A much greater percentage of the force is deployed overseas than it was for the
last decade, from 1992 to 2002, the study shows. It also questions whether
adequate preparations were made to support such a deployment.
"The fact that we are doing it doesn't mean we can do it," Conetta said. "What
was the preparation that allows for this? There hasn't been the preparation. It
doesn't mean people are revolting in the field (leaving the military). You're
not going to see a problem right away. ... My concern is that it might be soon."
The Pentagon may regard these numbers less pessimistically. While the data
reflects similarities to the Vietnam era, there are important differences in the
quality of the force. Vietnam was a war fought by conscript, rather than by a
The re-enlistment rate among active-duty forces deployed to combat is
historically the highest of any group in the military -- a trend that is
Furthermore, the Pentagon's stated intention is not to deploy troops less but to
deploy them more, a necessary adjunct to its plan to bring back to the United
States more than 70,000 troops permanently based overseas.
The study points to other indicators of possible trouble to come in the Army,
which it argues is going to be stretched to the breaking point by an extended
More than 20 percent of the Army has already been deployed more than 120 days so
far this year. In 2003, the total was 25 percent, according to estimates from
the Project on Defense Alternatives.
Those numbers represent half of all deployable forces. It is a stark increase
over the number of soldiers who were deployed more than 120 days a year for the
previous eight years, according to Defense Department statistics cited by the
study. Between 1994 and 2002, less than 5 percent of the Army was deployed for
more than 120 days in any one year.
In fact, most of the Army soldiers deployed to Iraq spend more than a year
deployed. Facing a long effort in Iraq and a force of about 500,000 -- only
about 65 percent of which is eligible to be deployed -- the Army mandated
year-long deployments for active-duty soldiers to ease the rotation schedule.
Reservists who were activated face the possibility of even more time in Iraq.
Because they are pulled onto the active force for two years at a time,
reservists with special skills who are individually activated are spending the
better part of that time deployed, according to military officials. One Army
colonel, who is a civil affairs specialist, deployed in Fallujah told United
Press International he would spend 21 of 24 months in Iraq.
"Soldiers can deploy occasionally for 120 days oversees without missing out on
important yearly routines at their home base, such as training, special
assignments and leave. Deployment of much more than 120 days in a year results
in deficits accumulating in the other aspects of a soldiers career and personal
life," the study says.
The Marine Corps has kept its Iraq rotation to seven months in deference to its
standard six-month sea tour schedules.
Lawrence Korb, an assistant secretary of defense under President Ronald Reagan
and now with the liberal Center for American Progress, said the only way to
forestall a mass exodus of mid-career soldiers strained by Iraq was to change
the deployment length to six months, and to promise only one year out of every
three would be spent overseas.
"You've got to do for active duty no more than one year out of three or you are
going to lose people who have not made a life-time commitment," Korb said
Tuesday. "This is ruining marriages and families."
Roughly 60 percent of the active duty force is married.
The Army is apparently considering making the switch to six-month deployments,
according to an internal memo, the New York Times reported Tuesday.
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