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Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Webb-Hagel 'Dwell Time Amendment' Needs Our Support Today

Many of our troops have been deployed upwards of 3, 4, or 5 times. For the past six years, this high operational tempo has resulted in human and mechanical stresses and strains throughout the system. To gauge the human strain factor, the Army has launched a handful of Mental Health Advisory Teams (MHAT) to the combat zone since 2003, surveying troops, military commanders, and mental health providers in the field.

In December 2006, the Army announced the results of the latest mental health survey [pdf] of its forces via MHAT III. They found that soldiers deployed more than once reported higher rates of acute stress. Length of deployment and family separation were the top two non-combat stress sources. Eighteen percent of troops with a previous deployment said they were under acute stress, while only 12 percent on their maiden tour were operating at the same elevated stress level.

This afternoon, the Senate begins debate again on the Defense Authorization Bill. Attached to the bill is an amendment aimed at relieving deployment-related stress by forcing the DoD to ramp down the tempo of troop rotations.

The Dwell Time Amendment sets its sights on extended and repeated deployment stress, with Senators Jim Webb and Chuck Hagel wanting troops to have equal time off with their families after a combat tour. Their measure needs the support of key Republican senators in order to have a chance of passing in the Senate. Defense Secretary Robert Gates says he is opposed to it, while Senator John Warner (an initial supporter) has begun to pull away from it (see details on this below).

The bill is being voted on today and needs our support. Please consider contacting the following senators (phoning would be best but I've included online contact form links as well).

Senator Lisa Murkowski (AK) - (202) 224-6665
Senator Susan Collins (ME) - (202) 224-2523
Senator John Sununu (NH) - (202) 224-2841
Senator George Voinovich (OH) - (202) 224-3353
Senator Arlen Specter (PA) - (202) 224-4254
Senator Lamar Alexander (TN) - (202) 224-4944

Click on 'Article Link' below tags for more...

From the New York Times, Webb and Hagel:

At a news conference this morning meant to bolster Republican support for the measure, and later in speeches on the Senate floor, Mr. Webb and Mr. Hagel, both of whom are Vietnam veterans, warned that the lengthy deployments of American troops in Iraq and insufficient time at home between deployments were wearing down the military so badly that it would take decades to rebuild.

“We are destroying our force structure,” Mr. Hagel said.

Mr. Webb, who served as an assistant secretary of defense and secretary of the Navy under President Reagan, said he believed that there was substantial disagreement between the White House and senior military leaders at the Pentagon over deployment issues, and that it was time for Congress to act to protect the troops.

“This is a point where we need to step in and referee the situation,” he said.

Mr. Webb said he responded to concerns raised by Mr. Gates by delaying the effective date of his measure by four months to allow Pentagon planners time to adjust to its requirements, and by exempting special forces units because of the unpredictable nature of their work.

Mr. Webb dismissed assertions in recent days by Mr. Gates and other Bush administration officials that his legislation would actually result in longer troop deployments and require that more National Guard and reserve units be called up.

“My view is, this is a political issue not a military issue,” Mr. Webb said. “And there is an attempt by this administration to paint a dark picture with respect to troop welfare in order to try to diminish what we are attempting to do on behalf of the troops.”

From the Air Force Times, Gates' opposition:

A veto threat has not deterred Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., from pressing ahead with a plan to guarantee troops a minimum amount of down time between combat tours.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Sunday that he would recommend a veto of the defense authorization bill if it includes Webb’s proposal to provide troops as much dwell time at home as they spent on their most recent combat-zone deployment before they can be deployed again.

Appearing on Fox News Sunday, Gates called the Webb proposal “well-intentioned” but one he would oppose. “I think it is really pretty much a back-door effort to get the president to accelerate the drawdown so that it is an automatic kind of thing rather than based on conditions in Iraq.”

Gates predicted “force management problems” if the Webb initiative were enacted, with greater reliance on the National Guard and reserve and more borrowing of service members from other units in order to ensure deploying units are fully manned.

From Voice of America, Warner's retreat:

An influential Republican U.S. senator is considering pulling his support for a measure that would require U.S. troops to spend the same amount of time at home as they spend deployed in Iraq.

John Warner initially supported the amendment introduced by Democrat Jim Webb, his fellow senator from the southern state of Virginia, when it first came to a vote in July. But Warner now says he is "reconsidering" his support given that President Bush has decided to withdraw some U.S. forces from Iraq by the end of this year.

If he does change his stance, Democrats may find it difficult to attract enough Republicans to achieve the 60 votes needed to move the measure forward for debate and a final vote.

From FOXNews, the political aspects:

The proposal doesn't expressly change war policy, but is seen as a de facto change because the Pentagon supposedly doesn't have enough forces to deploy more troops while newly-returned forces enjoy down time at home.

The measure is seen as the Democrats' strongest effort to tie President Bush's hands on war policy as they attempt to push forward on campaign promises to end the Iraq war and bring troops home. Similar language gained 56 votes in the Senate in July, and Democrats believe they may now have the four extra votes necessary to break a Republican filibuster.

Democrats so far have been unable to make gains in changing war policy through legislation. Despite mounting opposition earlier this year, the president sent an additional 30,000 troops this year as part of a plan to help stabilize Iraq.

Citing security gains, Bush announced last week that he intends to bring 5,700 troops home by the end of this year with a goal of bringing troop numbers in Iraq back to pre-surge levels of approximately 130,000 by mid-summer next year.

If the "dwell time" amendment from Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., beats a filibuster, it is expected to be vetoed by the president and does not have enough support to override the veto. ...

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. — who also is running for president — said the bill violates constitutional separation of power provisions. "It clearly violates the principles of separation of powers. Congress has no business in war time passing a law telling the Department of Defense which of its fully trained troops it can and cannot use in carrying out combat operations," McCain said from the Senate chamber. ...

Warner supported Webb's amendment when the Senate debated and voted on the measure in mid-July, but said Wednesday after a meeting with the Joint Chiefs of Staff and receiving an awaited letter from Defense Secretary Robert Gates that he has been effectively convinced that "they cannot put into force (Webb's) amendment without causing severe problems" should another national emergency arise.

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