April 23, 2007
Longer Deployments, Shorter WarBy Gerd Schroeder
Deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan are too short, and need to be longer. Deployments of 24-36 months or even longer would be one way to address our problems in those wars. Please put emotion aside for a moment. For all who are thinking that it is easy for some pundit to say, not having to do it, I should tell you that I was with the 1st Armored Division in Iraq and was among the first to be extended to 15 months in 2004.
Due to recent domestic events over the last two weeks most Americans probably missed the significants of the Department of Defense announcement that combat tours would be extended to 15 months in Iraq and Afghanistan for the US Army. There has been a lot of whining and boohooing from politicians, military family members, and many military members themselves over this new policy. So, what I am proposing today will no doubt bring a lot of heat my way from many different sides. But please hear me out.
A short history of the modern deployment cycle
When OIF kicked off, the warriors who conducted the major combat operations that collapsed the Saddam Regime were under the impression that they would be returning home after only 3 months. I am not sure what the official policy was at the time. From reading the book American Soldier by Tommy Franks, US Army General (Retired), one could surmise that no definite official deployment length was set by the DoD, or US Army. Most likely, it was soldier gossip and nothing more.
I can tell you that the unit from 3rd Infantry Division that we relieved in Baghdad was certain that they were on their way home as soon as they could transfer authority to 1st Armored Division. However, that dream collapsed early in May 2003, when they were extended indefinitely. In our unit, we started talking about a 6-month deployment, but most of us knew that it was most likely going to be a 12-month deployment.
In March 2004, as we were preparing to redeploy, the situation worsened throughout Iraq. We saw the writing on the wall for a whole week before the official announcement was made that 1st Armored Division and others would be extended in Iraq by 3-6 months. Again in 2005 and 2006 several units were extended to 15 months.
When Congress started playing with the emergency supplemental budget a few months ago, I believe, the Army started considering the idea of bridging the gap by officially and permanently extending the standard tour in the CENTCOM Area of Responsibility to 15 months. The purpose was to make sure that General Petraeus could keep up the momentum of the surge, despite the political gamesmanship that is being played back in Washington.
Here is my argument for longer tours:
First, you must understand the Arab Culture when it comes to matters of relationships and trust. Before trust comes a relationship. Without a personal relationship with an Arab you can never build trust. Trust is key to persuasion; persuasion can only be used if the Arab feels you are committed to the situation; and trust is gained only through effort and time. However, once the trust is built there is nothing that the Arab will not do for you.
It may seem to be stereotyping, but it is the reality in the Arab World. We assumed, as most Americans do, that we could simply hand off the ball to the next guy and he would move it forward. But in reality the new guys coming in had to start again the long and painful process of developing a relationship of trust with the Iraqis/Afghanis from whom they needed support.
A self-defeating cycle
Let us take a typical unit deployment to Iraq or Afghanistan. The first two months are spent in deployment, reception, staging, onward movement and integration. In simple terms, the unit moves form home station and relieves a unit in Iraq or Afghanistan. The new unit then spends the next month feeling out the area, and starts rebuilding the key relationships. This happens from the newest private to every general. So the first 3 months are really steps backward. In addition to the good faith efforts to build relationships, cultural mistakes are made by inexperienced or out of practice soldiers. This further hinders the effort.
The next six months are spent gaining the trust of your key players in country. This is what Col McFadden from 1st Brigade, 1st Armored Division described as 1000 cups of Chi [sweet tea] and 1000 cigarettes. During this time you are really just spinning you wheels in the mud. You make some headway, but it is slow. Somewhere at the end of those six months of trust-building you achieve a level of trust that allows the Iraqis/Afghanis to be persuaded by your personal relationship with them. Now the real progress starts. Unfortunately, you may be still behind the progress that your predecessor had achieved when he left. It has taken 6-8 months to begin making forward progress.
Now you have 2 months of good hard work before your attention starts to be split between the mission and redeployment. At about the 10-month mark, try as you may to stay on mission, you must prepare to redeployment. This demands time and resources. Because both time and resources are finite, the mission suffers. The last two months are spent buttressing your gains to limit the inevitable losses that will happen when you transfer authority over to your replacement.
What a poor way to spend the time we are given, and the resources that the American people give us.
With the tour for the Army now at 15 months, at least soldiers will have three more months of progress before they are forced, though an arbitrary deployment cycle, to take two steps back in mission progress to redeploy. The deployment cycle is not based on mission first; it is based on the false and offensive notion that the modern American Soldier and their families are not mentally or physically capable of such sacrifice and effort in time of war.
How much faster would progress in Iraq and Afghanistan go if tours were 24 months, 36 months, or longer? No doubt, the burden would be placed on fewer people, families would suffer more, plans would be put on hold, and many dreams would be postponed or even lost. However, the overall expenditure of effort, time, and money would be less because you are not losing momentum every time units change over. Experience would be maximized, translating to fewer casualties and mistakes; and ultimately, that would translate into the mission being accomplished sooner, and more efficiently.
If the WWII generation could do it, then so can this generation. But would they?
Knowing the American Soldier the way I do, my answer is yes. Would I do it? Yes. Make no mistake there would be a lot of crying and hand wringing. Not least of which would come form the Soldiers. But the will is in us, it just needs a great leader to ask us to do it; and like the generations before us, we will answer the call.
Gerd Schroeder is a Major in the United States Army; he has served in Iraq and Afghanistan. His personal views do not represent the views of the US Army or Department of Defense.