Army Secretary Says Shorter Iraq Tours Could Cost Lives info
European Stars and Stripes
November 22, 2006
By Kent Harris, Stars and Stripes
VICENZA, Italy — Yearlong deployments to Iraq may be an issue for soldiers’ families but shortening the tours could actually result in more casualties, Secretary of the Army Francis J. Harvey said Monday night.
Harvey, visiting the facilities of the Southern European Task Force (Airborne), told soldiers many of the casualties are in the first six weeks of a unit’s rotation. So having more frequent and shorter rotations would probably result in more loss of life, he said.
“Six months isn’t long enough,” Harvey said in reply to a soldier’s question.
Harvey’s visit to Vicenza and meetings with soldiers came days after the 173rd Airborne Brigade learned that it would going to Iraq — for a second time — in the next rotation of U.S. troops in 2007.
He said the Army’s goal is to have soldiers stay in their home bases for two years after a deployment, but admitted that the current time between rotations for many units is just over a year.
That will be true for the “Sky Soldiers,” which spent a year back in Italy between rotations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Harvey said he does not believe the Army is being stretched too thin by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
He said he relies on re-enlistment figures — which he said are the best in five years (and best among units that have served downrange) — and regular reports from senior noncommissioned officers about the condition of their units.
Asked about the potential of adding more soldiers to the Army, Harvey said that Congress had authorized an increase from 482,000 to 512,000.
But he said the Army was focused on converting more troops from support roles into combat arms. Such a move could bring the operational strength from 315,000 combat troops in 2002 to 355,000 in 2008.
Retired Gen. Barry McCaffrey painted a different picture last week during remarks at an officers association meeting in Washington, essentially saying the Army couldn’t continue to deploy so many troops without growing.
“I have a great deal of respect for General McCaffrey,” Harvey said. “But in this case, he happens to be wrong.”
He also disputed McCaffrey’s assertion that the Army was lowering its standards for new recruits, citing an array of new recruits who had attained various levels of education.
Harvey wouldn’t say if he’d ask for an increase in the Army’s current $160 billion budget.