All soldiers in the U.S. Central Command area of operations will serve 15-month tours in the region beginning immediately, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates announced on April 11, 2007.
“Effective immediately, active Army units now in the Central Command area of responsibility and those headed there will deploy for not more than 15 months and return home for not less than 12 months,” Gates said, during a Pentagon news conference.
This policy applies to all active duty Army units with the exception of two brigades currently in Iraq that have already been extended to 16 months. The policy does not apply to Marine Corps, Navy or Air Force units serving in Central Command. It also does not apply to Army National Guard or Army Reserve units deployed to the region.
The 15-month tour applies to active duty soldiers serving in Afghanistan, the Horn of Africa and all the countries in the region. U.S. Central Command stretches from Kenya to Kazakhstan and Egypt to Pakistan.
Soldiers will receive an extra $1,000 a month for each month or portion of the month that they serve longer than 12 months, Gates said.
Gates called this policy an “interim change.” The goal for active duty units is 12 months deployed followed by 12 months at home station. Ultimately, the Army would like to see soldiers deployed for 12 months and home for 24 months.
Leaks to the media forced Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates to speed up releasing his decision to increase tour lengths for soldiers assigned to U.S. Central Command from a year to 15 months.
The notification of the decision to soldiers and their families was made simultaneous with the news briefing. Army Lt. Gen. Ray Odierno, the commander of Multinational Corps Iraq, apologized to the families -- many of whom heard about the decision on television.
“I know the announcement the other day was probably one that surprised them,” Odierno told Pentagon reporters via teleconference from Baghdad. “I just want to comment to them that we appreciate everything that they're sacrificing, everything that they're doing. They are the strength behind all these great soldiers that are over here today.”
Odierno said 15-month deployments are needed to ensure that the Army retains the capacity to sustain the deployed force. The force will rise to 20 brigades by the end of May.
Guard/Reserve Not Affected
Meanwhile, Thomas F. Hall, assistant defense secretary for reserve affairs, reaffirmed that reserve-component soldiers are not affected by the 15-month tour policy that Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates announced.
Four National Guard brigades have been alerted for possible mobilization for duty in Iraq beginning in December 2007. If needed, those brigades will mobilize, deploy and redeploy within one year.
“We have been experiencing 18- to 21-month mobilizations for our Guard and reserves,” Hall said. “Families and employers told me that they simply could not sustain that.”
On Jan. 19, soon after taking office, Gates mandated reserve components would mobilize for one year and then have five years before another mobilization.
A second portion of Gates’ decision was that reserve-component units would train and deploy as units. Hall said the “cross-leveling” that cobbled together units would end.
Finally, Gates said that a compensation package would be developed if units broke their dwell time at home -- in other words, were mobilized before the five-year home-station period was finished. Hall said such a package is in development, and the details may be released soon.
About 13,000 Guardsmen from the four units -- the 37th Brigade Combat Team, from Ohio; the 76th BCT, from Indiana; the 45th BCT, from Oklahoma; and the 39th BCT, from Arkansas -- will mobilize under the new rules. While all these units have been in U.S. Central Command before, for fully two-thirds of the Guardsmen, this will be their first deployment.
Under the program, nine to 10 months before a potential mobilization, DoD officials will alert the Guardsmen.
“We’re going to get you that time for training; we’re going to get you the equipment ahead of time,” Hall said. The 45th Brigade Combat Team, for example, has already scheduled a 28-day training period instead of its normal two-week rotation, he said.
This will also help reduce stress on the force. There are 75,771 reservists deployed worldwide to support the global war on terrorism, Hall said. This is 120,000 fewer than in 2005. “We have reduced the number of Guardsmen and reservists on active duty the equivalent of six Army divisions,” Hall said. “Now we want to make this more predictable.”
More Time Between Deployments
While the policy increases the tour length, it also guarantees that units will spend 12 months at home station. Had the service not gone to this policy, five brigades would have been sent back to Iraq less than a year after returning to their home stations, said Lt. Gen. James L. Lovelace, the Army's deputy chief of staff for operations. That would have meant less training for Soldiers going into combat.
Lt. Gen. Lovelace said that Army leaders decided that sending units to Central Command early was not an option. Typically a unit comes back to its home station and Soldiers take block leave while the unit's equipment is shipped back. The next few months are a reset time for the unit; Soldiers leave for training, professional military education, reassignment, retirement or separation. At the same time new Soldiers arrive; new equipment is brought in; and older equipment is fixed.