Concerned that yearlong deployments to Iraq may be wearing out soldiers, the Army is working toward shortening combat tours by as much as half, Army Secretary Francis Harvey said Wednesday.
“We’d like to get ourselves to a situation where we can deploy the soldiers … for six to nine months,” Harvey told reporters during a trip to Fort Stewart. “We haven’t settled on it. But that’s our long-range plan.”
How quickly the Army can shorten deployments depends on how soon Iraq’s own security forces are ready to take on a greater share of responsibility from U.S. troops. Harvey said U.S. troops have trained about 260,000 Iraqi army and police forces, with 325,000 forecast by the end of the year.
He said he’s concerned some troops facing another year away from their families could be discouraged from re-enlisting.
“The indicators are from the young leaders, the captains and soldiers, that a shorter deployment time would help that,” Harvey said. “We don’t know where the point is that they say, `OK, that’s it. I’ve had enough of this rotating in-and-out stuff.'”
U.S. Marines, whose standard combat tour is seven months, get less time at home before deploying again.
Harvey said he doesn’t expect that to happen with Army troops. If deployments are cut to six months, he said, soldiers could get as much as two years at home between rotations.
© 2006 The Associated Press