Strained Army Extends Tours To 15 Months
Thursday, April 12, 2007
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates announced yesterday that all active-duty soldiers currently deployed or going to Iraq and Afghanistan will see their one-year tours extended to 15 months, acknowledging that such a strain on the war-weary Army is necessary should the ongoing troop increase be prolonged well into next year.
The decision -- coming three months after President Bush put forth his new security plan for Iraq, including the deployment of at least 28,000 additional troops there -- reflects the reality that the new strategy is unfeasible without introducing longer Army tours.
The across-the-board extension will affect more than 100,000 active-duty soldiers and will result in the longest combat tours for the Army since World War II. It will also mandate for the first time that active-duty soldiers spend more time at war than at home.
"This recognizes . . . that our forces are stretched. There's no question about that," Gates told reporters at the Pentagon.
Calling the longer tours "difficult but necessary," he said that all active-duty Army units in the Middle East, Central Asia and the Horn of Africa -- as well as those deploying there -- will serve up to 15 months, effective immediately, with the exception of two brigades that have already been extended. He made it clear that most units should expect 15-month tours.
"This decision will ask a lot of our Army troops and their families," Gates said. But he said it will make the rotations "fair, predictable and sustainable" in contrast to prior ad-hoc decisions to extend individual units serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. The move will also allow the Army to ensure that active-duty units have at least 12 months at home.
Families of deployed soldiers reacted to the news with disappointment and resignation.
"I was praying for a year" deployment, said Audrey Frohnhoefer, whose husband, Capt. Tom Frohnhoefer, is serving his third tour in Iraq with the 3rd Infantry Division, based in Fort Stewart, Ga. "The worst part about the whole thing is that we know what to expect, and we don't want to do it," she said in a telephone interview from her home in Savannah, Ga., as her infant and toddler daughters cried in the background.
Gates said the longer tours will give the Pentagon the capability to continue the troop increase in Iraq for "at least a year." But he said the progress of the war will determine whether that happens, as well as how long the policy of extended tours will last.
"This decision today does not predict when this surge will end. What it does is allows us to provide to the nation, if needed, the amount of force that's currently deployed for a sustained period of time," Marine Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said at the Pentagon news conference.
Most active-duty Army units have been spending one year at home between 12-month deployments. However, U.S. commanders in Iraq have recently warned their soldiers to plan on tours as long as 18 months.
"Every smart commander is telling their troops to expect longer tours -- there is no way to do this without longer tours," one senior military officer said in an e-mail from Iraq before Gates's announcement.