WASHINGTON – The Army will be able to sustain 20 combat brigades in Iraq for at least a year, officials said during a news conference April 11.
The Army’s policy change, announced by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, extends the service of all Active-Duty Soldiers in the U.S. Central Command region to 15 months. All Active-Duty Army units headed to the command also will serve for 15 months.
This will allow the service to maintain the level of effort in the region for a year, Defense Secretary Gates said. The five-brigade surge in support of the Baghdad security plan calls for 20 brigades in Iraq by the end of May.
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.
“Our standard is (U.S. Soldiers) will not deploy unless they are the best-trained, best-led, best-equipped force there is,” Lovelace said. “With the plus-up, we faced a situation with increasing probability of sending combat units into (U.S. Central Command) that did not have enough dwell time … at home station in order to get trained.”
Lovelace said the service asked for these changes. Army leaders “know this is a hard decision for those deployed, whose families are back at home station and for those about to deploy who thought they were going to deploy for a year,” he said during the news conference.
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.
The next stage concentrates on training Soldiers on individual skills needed in combat, followed by unit training.
This culminates in the mission readiness exercise. This is a rehearsal of the mission that the unit will perform in combat. Upon completion, the unit prepares to go back to combat operations.
Units must have a year at home station to accomplish all this, Lovelace said. Soldiers will receive extra compensation for the time over one year they spend deployed in Iraq.
“When you go over the 12-month time period, the compensation shifts,” said Roy Wallace, the director of plans and resources in the Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff for Personnel. “Another $200 is added to hardship duty pay and another $800 is added to assignment incentive pay, for a total of $1,000.”