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Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Army Vice Chief of Staff General Richard Cody: Soldiers, Families 'Stretched and Stressed' to Limit

Yesterday, in morning testimony before the House Veterans Affairs Subcommittee on Health, we heard Colonel Charles W. Hoge, M.D., Director of the Division of Psychiatry and Neuroscience at Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, say studies show "longer deployments, multiple deployments, greater time away from base camps, and combat intensity all contribute to higher rates of PTSD, depression, and marital problems."

Appearing later the very same afternoon before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Army Vice Chief of Staff General Richard Cody stated [written testimony pdf]:

Today’s Army is out of balance. The current demand for our forces in Iraq and Afghanistan exceeds the sustainable supply and limits our ability to provide ready forces for other contingencies. ...Current operational requirements for forces and insufficient time between deployments require a focus on counterinsurgency training and equipping to the detriment of preparedness for the full range of military missions.

Given the current theater demand for Army forces, we are unable to provide a sustainable tempo of deployments for our Soldiers and Families. Soldiers, Families, support systems, and equipment are stretched and stressed by the demands of lengthy and repeated deployments, with insufficient recovery time. Equipment used repeatedly in harsh environments is wearing out more rapidly than programmed.

Army support systems, designed for the pre-9/11 peacetime Army, are straining under the accumulation of stress from six years at war. Overall, our readiness is being consumed as fast as we build it. If unaddressed, this lack of balance poses a significant risk to the All-Volunteer Force and degrades the Army’s ability to make a timely response to other contingencies.


In educational interest, article(s) quoted from extensively.

Ann Scott Tyson for the Washington Post:

Both the Army and Marine Corps are working to increase their ranks by tens of thousands of troops -- to 547,000 active-duty soldiers and 202,000 Marines -- but newly created combat units will not be able to provide relief until about 2011.

U.S. soldiers are currently deploying for 15-month combat tours, with 12 months at home in between. Marines are deploying for seven-month rotations, with seven months at home. Both services seek to give their members at least twice as much time at home as time overseas. "Where we need to be with this force is no more than 12 months on the ground and 24 months back," Cody said.

Rick Maze writing for Navy Times covered a March Senate Armed Services Committee hearing that touched upon the same issues:

The stress on the force from extended deployments could get worse before it gets better, top combatant commanders warned Congress on Tuesday.

No decision has been made on whether the U.S. military will go ahead with plans to cut troop levels in Iraq in July at what was supposed to be the end of the so-called “surge” of combat forces designed to give the Iraqi government time to stabilize, and more troops could be needed in Afghanistan, said Adms. William Fallon, chief of U.S. Central Command, and Eric Olson, chief of U.S. Special Operations Command.

At a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, Fallon said there should be “little doubt of our desire to bring force levels down” and cited “encouraging trends.” But he said ground commanders also want to be cautious about withdrawing troops “because it is critical to not lose the ground that was so hard-fought this year.” ...

Olson said special operations forces do not expect to stand down if the Iraq and Afghanistan operations wind down. Operating tempo “will remain high even when conventional forces downsize in Iraq and Afghanistan,” he said, adding that his command “anticipates no relief from our deployed commitments even when U.S. force levels in Iraq and Afghanistan are reduced.”

Last month, Stars and Stripes' Vince Little wrote about the changes wrought across the services due to the increased military operations tempo:

The Iraq war has altered the dynamic for military units across the Pacific over the past five years. Along the way, there have been no shortages of stress and sacrifice. It’s carved out new roles for the Air Force and Navy, ushering in a brisk deployment tempo, and intense training sessions built specifically around prepping troops for duty on Iraq’s perilous streets and battlefields. ...

In recent years, the Army also has turned to the Navy and Air Force for help with security, civil engineering, infrastructure support and other critical roles in the war. In 2007, two Kadena Air Base squadrons, the 31st and the 33rd Rescue Squadrons, provided medical evacuation capabilities to other services in Afghanistan and Iraq. Defense contractors now routinely visit Pacific bases to teach airmen combat skills and convoy-ambush survival tactics.

Four-month rotations remain the standard for most Pacific airmen, but many are away for longer stretches. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were the first in which F-16CJ fighter jets were tasked to fly close-air support, providing cover, reconnaissance and munitions to coalition ground forces.

There are almost 1,400 Pacific Fleet sailors serving as individual augmentees in CENTCOM, with hundreds more at sea, the Navy said. The deployments range from six months to a year.

Navy leaders want to strike a better balance between war-on-terror requirements and improving stability for sailors and families at home, said Petty Officer 1st Class Shane Tuck, a Pacific Fleet spokesman. A new detailing process will be used for permanent-change-of-station transfers, rather than a “midtour, short-notice assignment,” he added.

Dale Eisman for the Virginian-Pilot:

The Navy also is feeling the strain, said Adm. Patrick Walsh, the vice chief of naval operations, even though ground forces are doing most of the fighting. The sea service has assigned thousands of sailors to support jobs ashore in the Middle East, using them to fill jobs that normally would be done by soldiers.

Walsh warned that the Navy's ability to maintain ships and aircraft will be imperiled unless lawmakers soon provide billions in extra funding sought by the Army and Marines to continue operations in Iraq. Without that money, Pentagon leaders will tap Navy and other noncombat accounts to pay war bills, he suggested. The Army is seeking an additional $66.5 billion and the Marines $1.8 billion this year for war-related expenses.

The military leaders' testimony at a Senate Armed Services subcommittee hearing fit a pattern of increasingly blunt warnings from the Pentagon about the war's toll on military families and equipment. The Bush administration began reducing the U.S. force in Iraq late last year, but Gen. David Petraeus, the top American commander there, is expected to recommend a pause in the drawdown when he testifies next week before House and Senate committees.

Capt. Wes Ticer writes in Air Force Link:

Airmen from the 379th Air Expeditionary Wing continue to maintain increased operations, both in the air and on the ground, in support of ground forces in Afghanistan and Iraq. ...

The 34th Expeditionary Bomb Squadron is called upon daily to provide close-air support to ground forces through precision bombing and shows of force and presence. The additional flying made for a busy week for aircrews and ground support.
"This was a good test for us to stretch our legs a little and get a taste of surge operations," said Lt. Col. Quinten Miklos, the 34th EBS director of operations. "It's an issue of stamina because what I'm asking people to do is to fly sorties more frequently."

Aircrew members are on a cycle that consists of crew rest, flying and recovering from a mission. A 12-hour sortie typically occupies the aircrew for 18 hours, Colonel Miklos said.

"For the crews, it presents a scheduling challenge because we are limited in the normal flow of sortie generation," Colonel Miklos said. "Our planners have to juggle the schedule to adjust crews to ensure the proper rest and time for planning."

It's obvious that our service members are doing a commendable, remarkable job under the increased tempo demanded of them. It's just unfortunate that we in the civilian sector don't have nearly as much political nerve to do right by them.


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