Combat Tours Still Too Long
Most soldiers I know greeted yesterday's news about the reduction in combat-tour lengths with a great deal of cynicism. It's not that they don't appreciate the reduction -- they do, and their families most certainly do. It's just that even a 12-month tour is such a hardship, such a departure from the deployment models used before the Iraq war strained the Army to its breaking point.
I can only imagine the profane responses from soldiers in Iraq when they heard the news -- particularly the point that the shorter tours only apply to troops deploying to Iraq after Aug. 1, 2008.
Many soldiers I know are literally green with envy over the Marines' shorter seven-month tours, which are modeled on the Marines' practice of floating combat units abroad for six-month-long cruises. The Army used a similar model during the peacekeeping deployments of the 1990s -- sending troops to Bosnia, Haiti and Kosovo for six-month stints (or less). When you include pre-deployment training, the tours include even more time away from home and family. But these deployment cycles are sustainable, largely because they give troops roughly twice as much time at home as abroad.
A 12-month combat tour is a different story.
This is an extremely long deployment, particularly for troops engaged in dangerous work outside the wire and away from the comforts of large U.S. bases. The combat-stress literature suggests there is a finite limit to the quantity of combat an individual can experience before he/she breaks down and becomes "combat ineffective." For sustained major combat operations, like Guadalcanal or the Hurtgen Forest, that figure is 60 days or so. We don't know exactly what the figure is for sustained counterinsurgency operations of the sort practiced in Baghdad or Baqubah. But there is a limit. And the most recent mental health survey statistics from the Pentagon indicate that we are rapidly pushing our soldiers and Marines toward it -- and beyond -- in order to sustain the force in Iraq.
It's a simple matter of supply and demand, according to outgoing Gen. Richard Cody, the Army's No. 2 officer. The current demand from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan "exceeds the sustainable supply," forcing the services to do irrational things in order to make ends meet. We know that soldiers and families need time to rest, recuperate, reintegrate, etc., between deployments, and that a 1:1 ratio of deployment:home time is not enough. But we're doing it anyway, and watching the results of this decision unfold like a slow-motion train wreck.
And so here we have another strategic cost of the war in Iraq. Beyond the numbers, this war is having a qualitative effect on the men and women who serve there. Iraq grinds people down just as it grinds down equipment. I worry that our Army will need at least a decade to bind its wounds from this war and prepare for whatever may lie over the horizon.
Please email us to report offensive comments.
Posted by: Jason | April 11, 2008 9:37 AM
Posted by: IRR Soldier... | April 11, 2008 9:38 AM
Posted by: bg | April 11, 2008 10:08 AM
Posted by: Bullsmith | April 11, 2008 11:05 AM
Posted by: Jimmy Wu | April 11, 2008 11:31 AM
Posted by: Richard | April 11, 2008 12:13 PM
Posted by: bg | April 11, 2008 12:28 PM
Posted by: DPC | April 11, 2008 1:23 PM
Posted by: fnord | April 11, 2008 2:00 PM
Posted by: bg | April 11, 2008 2:04 PM
Posted by: Matt | April 11, 2008 2:12 PM
Posted by: DPC | April 11, 2008 2:34 PM
Posted by: Jimmy Wu | April 11, 2008 3:12 PM
Posted by: bg | April 11, 2008 7:34 PM
Posted by: Pluto | April 11, 2008 8:05 PM
Posted by: Archimedes | April 12, 2008 10:29 AM
Posted by: wally | April 12, 2008 1:30 PM
Posted by: Cheryl | April 15, 2008 12:39 PM
Posted by: Cheryl | April 15, 2008 1:09 PM
The comments to this entry are closed.