Deploy Fifteen Months, and What Do You Get?
"Deploy fifteen months and what do you get? An extra three months older and caught in a stoploss net...civilian jobs don't you call me 'cause I can't go, I sold my soul to the Army y'know..."
I haven't blogged yet about this for a couple of reasons.
- Theoretically DH is getting out before his unit deploys again, so I wanted to let others who are definitely directly affected speak first.
- I wanted to give it some thought, rather than just respond emotionally. Emotional responses are legitimate, and sometimes necessary; I just didn't want to record mine for posterity in this case.
- Baby Diva is having a nursing strike and so I have been lavishing extra attention on her.
Our Battalion FRG Advisor passed around some letters from the Generals, addressed to family members. Essentially, these letters said that they recognize that this is an added sacrifice the military must bear for the country...but this is necessary so suck it up and drive on. They did not literally say the last part, that is just me reading between the lines.
After letting this ferment in my mind for a few days, I thought I might share a couple of thoughts. These are MY responses--it is not meant to represent "the military viewpoint" or even "the spouse's point of view" and not necessarily my husband's or my friends' viewpoints...just mine and mine alone...I can't even promise it will still be my view next week. Hopefully others will leave some of their own thoughts in the comment section.
What's up with this "family stability" language?
One of the phrases that seems to be a flash point for a lot of anger is the idea that this will create a greater level of stability for the families. The articles and letters expand on this a little, explaining that a 15 month deployment is the only way at this point to make sure each unit is home for a year before deploying again.
The letters also acknowledge that this is a poor version of the stability some units were initially promised.
DH is in a "unit of action." This was supposed to mean that he would be with the unit three years. During that year, the unit would train for a year, deploy for a year, and then reset for a year. After that, the whole cycle would start again.
So, let's look at how that worked out. Train for a year, check. Deploy for a year, check.
Then we found out most of the unit is moving to another post. Soldiers in our Brigade were given a "choice": stay at Ft. Hood and join 1st Cav, not deploying until the next time they deploy; go to Ft. Carson with the rest of the 4th ID; go "needs" of the Army and try to work out follow-on assignment. Soldiers and families agonized over the decision and, in the end, for most of them it did not matter. People weren't released for follow-on assignments and now the unit is deploying about a year earlier than originally planned.
So, what they are telling us is that although it is not what we were promised, 12 months at home is better than less than 12 months and we can only get those 12 months with 15 month deployments.
So, at least you'll get 12 months with your soldier at home?
Yes, Sorta, No, Not Really...
Perhaps I am being naive, but I do believe they have good intentions of making this happen.
However, that 12 months refers to the unit. What if a soldier moves from a unit that just returned to a unit about to deploy? That happens. A lot.
Also, one thing the civilian world probably does not realize: the high "op tempo" (operation tempo) also affects life in garrison (while the active duty troops are in the states). What this means is that during a gear-up to deployment, the unit spends more time in the field and more late nigths at work. My husband frequently works the similar hours to when he worked at a large NYC law firm and that is not even counting field time.
Basically a unit will be preparing to deploy or deployed...there will be no real "downtime" during which the family can count on having the soldier around and available.
How is this different than all of the extensions that were happening before?
In some ways, it isn't. When DH deployed at the end of 2005, we were told to expect 12-15 months. We ended up with 12, but it could have easily ended up the other way. Then there are those units that expected 12 months and ended up with extensions.
In some ways, it is better to know in advance.
However, the difference is that before the deployments greater than 12 months were either mission-specific or were based on evolving realities "on the ground." The fact that we are moving to 15 month deployments as a matter of policy means that 15 months is the default, not the exception.
Psychologically, there seems to be a barrier at around a year...I can handle almost anything for about a year, beyond that, it starts to feel more like a permanent situation.
Also, if 15 months is baseline, how do we know there won't be extensions to 18 months?
But it is only three more months...how bad could that be? If you can do 12, you can do three, right?
For those with families, 15 months increases the chance that instead of missing just one Christmas, one anniversary, one birthday, etc., you'll miss two of at least one of these.
For those with small children, three months is an eternity of milestones.
For all soldiers, it is still more than they bargained for.
And it may not even literally be just three months. Take for example, a person who was about to leave the military. He was going to leave in, oh, say, August. His unit is deploying in November, so, he is stop-lossed (he can't leave because his unit is deploying within 90 days). Then, he has the 15 month deployment. Then, he can't leave for another 90 days after they get back. So, now we are up to an extra 21 months in the military.
Is this necessary?
Short answer: I don't know. I'm not a military strategist. There are mission-related reasons for this extension to fifteen months. They say we need a troop surge and, even if the military increased recruiting or even if we had a draft, the only way to get more troops there right now is to send them more frequently or to send them for longer periods of time.
In terms of costs and logistics, obviously it is easier to send one unit for a longer period, rather than to send two units for shorter periods.
Also, a higher proportion of casualties seem to occur the first couple of weeks and the last couple of weeks of a deployment. The first can be explained, in part, by a unit getting used to the mission, the terrain, and the people it encounters. Regardless of why, longer deployments would minimize the exposure to those risky time periods, as opposed to shorter, but more frequent, deployments.
I seriously hope it is, because it is risky. I think ultimately this is going to affect mission-readiness. Fewer families are going to want to continue this lifestyle, resulting in fewer soldiers re-upping. Ultimately, this is going to spread the military thinner and thinner.
The fifteen month deployment is a band-aid solution...one that may hurt retention and recruitment down the line. If it doesn't work, then we gambled future readiness on a losing bet.
What is becoming clearer is that the United States cannot fight in a larger conflict without greater sacrifice from a wider segment of its population.