The former commander of Multinational Corps Iraq emphasized the need yesterday for longer "dwell time" between Army deployments to reduce the strain on the force and give soldiers more time for training. Video
Army Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, who left the No. 2 coalition post in Iraq in mid-February, told Pentagon reporters he supports plans to shorten Army deployments from 15 to 12 months to reduce wear and tear on the force.
"What we're trying to do is get more time back between deployments," Odierno said. Troops now typically get a 1-to-1 balance between dwell time and deployments, returning from a 12- to 15-month deployment and heading back 12 to 15 months later, he noted.
Ideally, the Army would like to see that changed to 2-to-1: two years at home between one-year deployments.
"We're not close to being there yet," Odierno said. "But that's the kind of metric I think we want to look at."
More time between deployments would give soldiers and their families a welcome reprieve, but Odierno emphasized that dwell time doesn't equate to a year of "sitting home every night."
"You're out training and doing a lot of other things" to prepare for the next deployment, he said.
"That's why we want to extend that time," he said. "We'd like to have a bit more time to reintegrate units (and) to spend more time on our equipment."
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates announced in April that the Army was extending all deployments for troops serving in the U.S. Central Command region. The move was critical, officials said, for the Army to be able to sustain 20 combat brigades in Iraq required to support the Baghdad security plan. The troop surge called for five additional brigades in and around Iraq's capital city.
Army Lt. Gen Carter F. Ham, operations director for the Joint Staff, shared Odierno's and other defense leaders' sentiments during a Feb. 25 Pentagon news conference. Getting the Army back to 12-month deployments "is a very, very high priority," he said.
Ham said it's premature to say that change will happen by July, to synchronize with the drawdown of surge forces in Iraq. "But that's being studied very, very hard," he said, not only by commanders on the ground, but also at the direction of Gen. George W. Casey Jr., Army chief of staff, and at U.S. Joint Forces Command.
Casey told the Senate Armed Services Committee late last month the cut in deployment times could come sometime in the July timeframe, after the Army reduces in Iraq to 15 brigades. That troop reduction supports recommendations of Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, commander of Multinational Force Iraq, who also recommended a temporary pause before decisions are made about additional reductions.
"If General Petraeus is able to execute the announced plan of getting to 15 brigades by July, it would be our goal at that point to return to 12 months," Casey said during his Feb. 28 testimony to Congress. "We believe it will still be possible, even with a pause, to go from ... 15 months to 12 months."
Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told military analysts Feb. 15 he supports such a move, noting that the military stands at a delicate balance between the mission and the health of the force.
"I'm anxious to get out of 15-month deployments as soon as I can and get it down to 12 months," Mullen said. "Fifteen months is too long. Part of it for me was I was in the military during Vietnam, when we did one-year tours and that was a long time."
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service