Extended tours endanger troops


One of the great wonders of the Iraq war is the patience with which our troops have endured unanticipated extensions of their deployments and multiple deployments to the combat zone.

In some cases, they have been required to remain in Iraq or Afghanistan well beyond the date of their previously scheduled redeployments to the United States and even beyond the date of their scheduled retirements or discharges from the service.

Sometimes units have actually reached home before being immediately returned to the war. In the cruelest cases, some units were practically boarding the planes for their flights out of Iraq before being told that they would have to stay for a few more months. The disappointment for these soldiers and their families must be painful and profound.

Occasionally, soldiers will complain and a few have brought lawsuits against the service for breach of contract, but generally they do their duty with patient resignation, which is what our soldiers have nearly always done when asked to undertake our country’s hardest work.

Even in the best circumstances, as soon as he or she is deployed overseas, nearly every service member — soldier, sailor, airman, Marine — begins to think about coming home, especially if there’s a family waiting. Anything that delays the return is hard to take in a way that’s probably difficult for most of us to imagine.

I’ve had a mild taste of this: In 1970, the U.S Navy sent me to a radio transmitting station on the remote coast of Western Australia, a comparatively good duty station. The base was in the middle of nowhere, but it had a library and a movie theatre and eight films per week were flown in from the States.

Still, the nearest town was 250 miles in each direction, and before long every sailor there had created a “short-timer’s calendar” that counted down the days until it was his or her turn to catch the weekly fight back to civilization. Seventeen months, three weeks, and a day later my flight came in. It’s not hard to imagine the disappointment that an extension of only a few extra months would have caused.

Next came 18 months on a guided missile destroyer that spent 15 of those months deployed, including a western Pacific cruise. Of course this doesn’t compare to the experience of the grunts who were slogging through the rice paddies and jungles in Vietnam, which our ship kept, for the most part, well beyond the horizon. Still, it was no picnic. Watches were port and starboard, which means eight hours on and eight hours off, around the clock for stretches of 30 days at a time and occasionally as many as 43. But the food was good and, if you had time to watch it, there was an occasional movie on the mess deck. It could have been worse.

Nevertheless, eventually one young sailor arranged his shoes neatly on the deck and stepped over the side into the South China Sea. There was always talk of extending the cruise, so the sense of relief among the crew was enormous when the ship finally turned east toward home.

My relatively benign experience only hints at the anxiety and frustration that our soldiers go through in Afghanistan and Iraq. Soldiers deployed to Vietnam faced what they used to call “365 and a wakeup.” They knew that if they could survive for a year they were going home. But soldiers in the current extended conflicts have no such assurance.

Furthermore, many of these soldiers are savvy and informed. They’ve seen the news and many of them are aware of books like Thomas Ricks’ “Fiasco” and Bob Woodward’s “State of Denial.” They understand the ill-conceived nature and poor execution of the war in Iraq. I suspect that many of them are aware that they and their families are bearing an inordinate portion of the burden of this war. As always, they are doing their duty honorably. But their overuse by the administration threatens to break them down. Their admirable patience and will to do what we’ve asked of them is extensive, but I suspect that it’s not inexhaustible. They deserve better.

(John M. Crisp teaches in the English Department at Del Mar College in Corpus Christi, Texas. E-mail: jcrisp(at)delmar.edu.)


  1. Ray

    Great article John. Only may I correct one thing? It is not ” we ” that have asked them to be in Iraq. It is ” Him ” the Decider who has told them to stay beyond reason.

  2. JimZ

    So this is “supporting the troops”?

    What a bunch of patriotism diarrhea.

    How is keeping them there “support”?

    Where was the support for the troops when the GOP-led Congress passed (written by the banks) the bankruptcy reform act which didn’t allow an exception for troops on extended duty? To their credit, I do remember the Dems trying to pass an amendment making such an exception, but the GOP torpedoed it.

    Today we are already hearing the Dems scaling back their threat/commitment to limit the Iraq War. Now that’s not supporting the troops, either. I predicted they wouldn’t actually end the war, then run on that as their platform in the 2008 election. We’ll see.

    By then, it will have cost over a trillion dollars with Chinese interest. You know, the country our Corps are sending our jobs, is going through a huge military buildup, and already has shown its threatening ways with the anti-satellite test (let’s not forget they kept our spy plan and made us dismantle it).

    Nothing could support our troops more than bringing them home; back to their families. Before more of them are killed, maimed, or mentally broken.

    No more of using our troops as a political slogan to support the EMPIRE!

  3. Kent Shaw


    That would be the COMMUNIST RED CHINESE to whom we will owe that trillion dollars if not more including interest before all is said and done. So much for that glorious effort in Vietnam which was to halt the spread of Communism, eh? Will we ever learn? Of course now we have NEW, MORE DANGEROUS enemies. And when they are no longer a perceived threat we will find YET ANOTHER HORRIBLY DANGEROUS THREAT that will provide yet more trillions in profits for the MIC and yet more reasons to borrow more trillions from more of our once and future enemies. If it all wasn’t so insane it would be hilarious.


  4. gene

    I am retired from the army and I honestly don’t know how these guys are doing it. I retired in 1996 after 20+ years and was part of desert storm which was nothing compared to the last 4 years in Iraq. I know the truth about the bush whitehouse and it would probably end my career if I was still on active duty. I could not serve this nation under current lies and circumstances. Many of the soldiers today do know the truth and many are trying to leave the service or better yet, going AWOL. I am medically disabled and will turn 60 soon so (think God) no chance of a recall for myself and I feel for those that have been recalled to active duty. We are the axis of evil…bush…cheney…and rice (no caps equals NO RESPECT) for any of the above 3 names. This is a very evil, deadly situation and will only get worse.

  5. John H

    Good Article John Chrisp. I am a Vietnam Combat veteran and my son is currently serving in Iraq with the 82nd Airborne Infantry. He was ‘Stop Lossed’ and extended a year. He did a deployment in Afghanistan and should have gotten out of Army in Sept. 2006. But they are keeping him for an extra 13 months. It is tough on a young man when the military does not keep its agreement and they lie by saying they are not undermanned and that they are meeting their recruitment goals. Well, that is not true for the infantry, or they wouldn’t be extending these young warriors and sending them back into harms way. There are questions by our troops about the mission and the integrity (of at least the Army) and morale is not that great over there. I am a right wing type of guy, but I have lost a lot of respect for our leaders who don’t maintain their part of the enlistment agreement or anything else. They have their talking points and excuses, but let’s get right down to it, we are stretching our soldiers way too thin, and we don’t have the manpower to cover anything bigger than what we have already bitten off. 160,000 deployed troops in Iraq and Afghanistan should not tap us out. We don’t fight wars to win them, we just dilly dally around and let guys like the Shite boy Sadr kill or troops and then enter into the Iraqi political process. This is scary. My hope is that Robert Gates can get the military straightened out, but that is a big order.

    We have some good men serving in the military, but that will not last forever if we can’t treat them with the dignity they deserve. I hope are leaders are listening………..but I doubt that.

  6. Ray

    Gates straighten them out? The master of spying on civilians? Gates is just another neocon traitor. The troops are lowest of priority to those so called leaders. We have a decider and scores of yes men and a media who are repeaters not journalists. They repeat what the editors hands them. Just like the bimbo on BBC. The bigger task is how to survive the next few years, but what then. America needs a spiritual revival, not religious revival, spiritual. We need to realize the power we have and forgotten. The evil that is doing all this crap gets its power from the people. To defeat them is to simply deny the support given. As long as we support these despots it will only go down the same old path its on. I read a post today from an Aussie who was screaming whats wrong with you americans? Why can’t you see what your government is doing to the world and to your country? Others in the world get information not allowed in the USA, mainly the truth, I’m sure. Take a minute and imagine being from another country, watching what america is doing around the world and to its citizens. Easier to see the scam from different perspective. Lets see, what was the last good deed that america has done in the world? How many medical advancements per military technological developments? How many awards have been given to federal workers for ideas that cut cost of government? I could go on and on, its endless.

  7. SEAL

    The thing that has been totally lost is the understanding that the military does not swear an oath to serve the president, the commander-in-chief. The oath is to protect and defend the nation. If the commander-in-chief were to issue an order that would be harmful to the nation it must be disobeyed. That is true at all levels of the military. Three times in my career I refused an order on those grounds. I was right, I had the weight, and I went about it the right way so, I survived with no negative impact to my career. But I have no knowlege of any other officer during my career ever doing that. And I witnessed many instances where it should have happened. My point is that the military command themselves have lost sight of what their allegiance and duty is.

    Recently, we have had several lower ranking personnel challenge the betrayal by their government only to have it mired in legal mumbo jumbo so that, by the time it would be resolved, it will be a moot issue. No precedent will be set. The fact that they are right will never be established. Those who stupidly refused to report for duty have been rightly court martialed and they deserved it. Stupid is as stupid does – “Forrest Gump.”

    When Bush gave the order to go into Afganistan, destroy the taliban, and capture or kill bin Laden, the military commanders were correct to obey. We knew for a fact and by their own admission that they were responsible for 9/11. The fact that they were located in a forgien country was irrellevant. The country that harbored them was, also, the enemy. And they were, also, correct to obey the order to stop the assault when they had Osama and his “army” cornered in Afganistan under information of an agreement the administration had with Afganistan to allow them to make the capture/kill and final destruction of the taliban. There was no way the military could have known the neoconartists real purpose was to allow Osama and his bunch to escape.

    But Iraq was an entirely different matter. Congress has not declared war on the country. They had given Bush the power to use all necessary force to protect the United States. Any military commander with half a brain knew that it was not necessary to invade Iraq to protect the US. They knew that Iraq posed no military threat to the United States. Whether or not they had ties to Al Quida was not a military concern because there were no Iraqi troops involved in the fighting in Afganistan. Even if they had WMD they had no means to deliver them. Camels can’t swim the Atlantic Ocean and they had no planes capable of reaching France much less the US. Our country was in absolutely no danger from Iraq. Every officer at command level knows that preemtively invading a soverign nation is an international crime. And, by invading Iraq, they would be guilty of a war crime. Simply following orders has never been a legitimate excuse.

    This is what has angered me all along. The order to Invade Iraq should have been disobeyed. By obeying it they violated the oath the made to protect and defend. By doing so they injured their nation, committing a war crime by their nation. By doing so they made the United States of America an International criminal exactly the same as Germany was when they invaded other nations. Believe it or not, it is just that simple. We are the only nation in the world that does not understand that.