Amid Scandals, Lawmakers Want Better Tracking on High Troop Deployment Rates

U.S. Air Force Airmen depart a KC-10 Extender Nov. 21, 2019, at Travis Air Force Base, California. (U.S. Air Force/Airman 1st Class Cameron Otte)
U.S. Air Force Airmen depart a KC-10 Extender Nov. 21, 2019, at Travis Air Force Base, California. (U.S. Air Force/Airman 1st Class Cameron Otte)

The final version of the defense policy bill for fiscal 2020 directs senior Pentagon and service officials to do a better job of tracking troops' high deployment rates. The language comes in the wake of several misconduct scandals in the special operations community.

For the past few years, senior U.S military officials have warned of the dangers involved with the high operational tempo required to accomplish missions around the world.

Recently, Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly said that the strain of two decades of heavy deployments have started to take their toll on special operations forces.

In July, a Naval Special Warfare platoon was kicked out of Iraq over alleged sexual misconduct and drinking in the war zone. A year earlier, several Navy SEALs tested positive for cocaine use.

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There have been more serious criminal cases, such as those of Chief Special Warfare Operators Adam Matthews and Anthony DeDolph, accused of killing an Army staff sergeant. Matthews pleaded guilty to lesser charges and was sentenced to a year in prison; DeDolph still faces trial.

The incidents led to an ethics review of the Naval Special Warfare community and resulted in a discipline crackdown.

Army Gen. Raymond "Tony" Thomas, then-commander of Special Operations Command, warned Congress in 2017 that the deployment rate was unsustainable.

The conference version of the fiscal 2020 National Defense Authorization Act contains language directing senior military leaders to establish and maintain "specific and measurable deployment thresholds," according to the conference version of the document.

The language in the $738 billion bill is vague, but it directs the under secretary of defense for personnel and readiness, the service secretaries, Marine Corps commandant and commander of U.S. Special Operation Command to "collect complete and reliable personnel tempo data" of service members to ensure that all U.S. military branches "fully and completely monitor personnel tempo under any waiver," as well as the effect of such waivers on the armed forces, according to the document.

The services have tried to ensure that service members are on at least a two-to-one deployment ratio, meaning they are at home for at least two years for every year of deployment. For special operations forces, operators are supposed to be at home six to nine months for every three months deployed.

But this policy is easier to apply to a unit than to an individual service member, according to a Pentagon official who is not authorized to speak to the press. A service member may want to deploy more often and be granted a waiver to do so, the official said.

If this version of the bill is approved, lawmakers have directed that deployment threshold measures be "fully implemented" by March 1, according to the document. The full House is expected to vote on the bill this week, and a Senate vote should follow this month.

-- Matthew Cox can be reached at

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