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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 shows.

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 volunteer military.

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 apparently continuing.

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 Iraq deployment.



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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Copyright 2004 United Press International. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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Copyright 2015 . All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


 


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