WASHINGTON, June 12, 2007 – U.S. forces in Iraq are managing deployment schedules to maximize efficiency and generate the greatest momentum for changes taking place to benefit the Iraqi people, a senior enlisted official there said today.

A recently announced policy of 15-month deployments for the Army was put in place to mitigate the sharp learning curve demanded of soldiers beginning rotations into Iraq and other locations in the war on terrorism, said Marine Sgt. Maj. Jeffrey A. Morin, the senior enlisted leader for U.S. Central Command.

“The situation on the ground changes so quickly and so drastically from day to day, from week to week, when you first arrive on the ground it does take some time for a unit to become fully effective,” he said.

In a six- or 12-month rotation, the 30- to 50-day spin-up period in which troops learn to navigate their environment cuts substantially into overall effectiveness when compounded over multiple divisions and rotations, Morin explained.

A 15-month deployment diffuses the impact of the orientation period and also balances the hand-off time at the end of a rotation, he said.

“You don’t want to start things you can’t finish toward the end of your cycle,” he said. “With the 15-month cycle, you’re looking at getting more effective combat power on the ground at any given time.”

The other “tactical advantage” to the extended deployment, Morin said, is that with a guaranteed 12 months in the rear afterward, soldiers are able to space out intensive training courses that will benefit them on their next rotation.

The time at home also benefits the soldiers’ family lives, Morin said, relieving uncertainty about how long a soldier will be home and allowing families to make firm plans.

“There’s a lot more continuity, if you will, for home life now that we did not have before,” he said.

While the effect of the extended deployments temporarily hurt morale at the time of the announcement, Morin admitted, the certainty of a guaranteed schedule actually improves morale in the long run.

“When you first tell somebody they’re going to be extended, … morale does dip, morale goes down, because they’re going to be there longer than they thought they were going to be,” he said.

However, he noted, more impacting was “that unknowing period: ‘Were we going to be extended? Were we not?’ That did affect morale.”

Unlike the Army, Morin explained, the Marine Corps will hold to a seven-month deployment schedule. The reason, he said, is that “the Marine Corps has a different kind of dynamic. … Everything that we do is geared around deployments.”

With ongoing, automatic commitments in Okinawa and with Marine expeditionary units, he said, “We have to be able to have that ability to move all those units kind of on the same cycle.”

That rotation is associated with the Navy’s ship deployment and maintenance timetables, Morin explained. “That seven months is the best and most efficient way that we can do it,” he said.

Despite the abbreviated time in country for Marines in Iraq, Morin noted, the shorter seven-month rotation out of country means that the Marines’ familiarity with the ground situation doesn’t drop off to the extent it would with a longer rest period.

“Your time off that battlefield is greatly reduced,” he said. “Although you’ve missed seven months of that time, you don’t really get too dusty, if you will, because you go straight back in.”

The increased effectiveness of the Army and Marine Corps becomes apparent in the positive shifts on the ground in Iraq, Morin said.

“I'd just like to let you know that we are making great progress right now, although you might not see it,” he said. “But the behind-scene kind of things that are happening out there at the combat outpost level and at the joint security station level” are encouraging, he said.

With fusion between the Iraqi security forces and coalition forces, Morin said, “we're partnering up together and continuing to prosecute this war against the anti-Iraqi forces.”

He called the Iraqi people “great, great partners” in the war. “They are not the enemy,” he stressed.

“There are many other players out there that want to be the enemy, but the Iraqi people are our friends,” Morin said. “And when we are partnered together with them, as we are right now, success down the road — and I'll never the use the word ‘win,’ because I really don't know what winning is yet — but achieving success in that country is coming step by step.”

(Tim Kilbride is assigned to New Media, American Forces Information Service.)