Army will cut length of combat tours to 9 months

McClatchy NewspapersAugust 5, 2011 

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Army announced Friday that it will reduce the amount of time soldiers are deployed in combat zones to nine months, the shortest combat rotation since the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan began nearly 10 years ago.

The new deployment schedule is set to begin in January and cycle through to all brigades by April, the Army said. It will apply to most units except for those in high demand — such as aviation, transportation and communication brigades — which could continue to serve yearlong deployments, said Lt. Col. Craig Ratcliff, an Army spokesman.

Currently, most Army deployments are 12 months, and soldiers have nearly two years between deployments to train, re-equip and rest. The Army hopes to increase the amount of time between deployments to three years eventually, though that change has yet to be announced.

During much of the last decade, soldiers have lived on a constant deployment cycle: going to battle, then coming home only long enough to train for the next deployment. During that same period, divorce rates rose, drug and alcohol abuse reached epidemic proportions and suicides reached record numbers.

In 2007, at the peak of the wars, roughly 200,000 troops served in Iraq and Afghanistan. That year, the Army increased deployments to a record 15 months and kept dwell times at one year to send an additional 25,000 troops for the "surge" in Iraq.

Army officials said planning to reduce the length of deployments began after the U.S. announced in late 2008 that it would remove all its troops from Iraq by the end of this year. The decision to implement the shorter deployments was made before the Obama administration announced that it would reduce the number of American troops in Afghanistan over the next year by 33,000.

If the U.S. drawdown plans in Iraq and Afghanistan occur on schedule, there will be roughly 90,000 American troops in Afghanistan and none in Iraq when the new deployment schedule begins. All 46,000 U.S. troops who remain in Iraq are supposed to be out by then, according to a status of forces agreement.

If the Iraqis ask for American troops to stay and the United States agrees, that won't change the deployment schedule, Ratcliff said.

Until 9/11, most soldiers served deployments of six to nine months. Former Army Chief of Staff George W. Casey, who first pushed for reduced deployments, argued that nine months was the perfect length of time to serve, saying that six months was too short for soldiers to master warfare in their communities and a year put too much strain on them.

"We've done these mental health assessment team studies for six years now — between nine and 12 is where a lot of the stress problems really manifest themselves, where the family problems really manifest themselves," Casey said in an interview last year with the Army Times.

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