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Army to Urge More Time At Home For Soldiers

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By Ann Scott Tyson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Army Chief of Staff George W. Casey Jr., who is scheduled to testify today before the House Armed Services Committee, intends to move as quickly as possible to grant soldiers more relief from the war zone, having argued that the troop rotations of 15 months in combat and 12 months at home -- required by the buildup of U.S. forces in Iraq and the conflict in Afghanistan -- are "not sustainable" for the Army.

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Army planners are considering options for how to use the withdrawal of five Army combat brigades from Iraq by next July to increase the time that soldiers spend at home compared with the time on the battlefield. The reduction is part of the drawdown of 21,700 combat troops that President Bush announced this month. Requiring equal time deployed and time at home was a key aim of Democratic legislation that failed last week in Congress.

"The Army . . . is trying very hard to reduce the amount of time deployed versus the dwell time back in the United States, trying to get to a 12-month deployment to a 12-month dwell time back at home station," said Maj. Gen. Richard Sherlock, director of operational planning for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said at a Pentagon briefing yesterday.

Another option outlined by Army officials would be to retain the current 15-month tours but gradually lengthen the time at home and allow some units to leave earlier. "It's better to maintain the predictability of saying you are going for 15 [months]," said one Army official, adding: "We don't want to overpromise anything."

Gen. Casey and Army Secretary Pete Geren, who is also scheduled to testify today, have spoken frequently with lawmakers in recent weeks to inform them about the strain on the Army and the need for continued funding to rebuild the main U.S. ground force after four years of warfare have depleted its manpower and equipment.

Casey and other members of the Joint Chiefs have made no secret of their concerns about the stress imposed by the troop buildup. "Now we're 15 out, 12 back. And that's not sustainable," Casey said at a forum earlier this month. "I do not want to go beyond 15 months on the ground for the soldiers, and I want to get to more than a year at home as rapidly as we can," he said. Asked whether he thought the troop increase was working, Casey, who until this spring served as the top U.S. commander in Iraq, replied: "It remains to be seen."

House Democrats are expected to press the two leaders on the Army's declining readiness.

Rep. Solomon P. Ortiz (D-Tex.), chairman of the readiness subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee, said Army generals have told him privately that the Army cannot maintain its current pace of war-zone rotations. "They are saying it's almost to the breaking point, we can't continue on this path," he said in an interview.

Committee Chairman Ike Skelton (D-Mo.) has warned that the demands of Iraq and Afghanistan have left the Army short of vital manpower, equipment and training for other overseas contingencies.

"No one can disguise the fact that the Army's ability to project forces is nil. They are not ready for full spectrum combat and it's recognized now," said a U.S. official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to reporters.

Army officials said that in addition to addressing ways to reduce stress on the force, Casey and Geren will attempt to impress upon lawmakers that the Army's need for billions in additional funding will continue long after tens of thousands of soldiers return from Iraq.

"We're trying to inform Congress about the Army's future funding problems," said one senior Army official. "We've got to recapitalize our whole armor fleet. Tanks and Bradleys have been eaten up to no end. We have to replace the pre-positioned equipment" of stocks stored overseas, the official said. "That's something no one likes to talk about."

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