Monday, September 22nd, 2014

The Obameter

Make military deployments predictable for troops and families


"Establish regularity in deployments: so that active duty and reserves know what they must expect, rather than the current trend of changing the deployment schedules after they have left home, which harms the morale of troops and their families."


Updates

Deployment has become more standardized

During his presidential campaign, President Barack Obama promised to "Establish regularity in deployments: so that active duty and reserves know what they must expect, rather than the current trend of changing the deployment schedules after they have left home, which harms the morale of troops and their families."

As we explained in the last update, the administration has taken many steps towards making deployments more predictable for troops and families.

One of those steps was ending the "stop-loss” program, which forced troops to stay deployed for longer than their expected commitments. Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced in May 2009 that he was ending the program, and he officially made good on that promise in June 2011, when he announced at a Senate hearing that "there are no Army soldiers stop-lossed.”

The administration has also worked to standardize deployment time and dwell time for both active duty and reserve soldiers.

For soldiers, deployment and dwell times have become relatively standardized for almost all members, both active and reserve. In August 2011, Secretary of the Army John McHugh announced that beginning in January 2012, the Army would deploy most soldiers for only nine months, a decrease from previous 12-month deployments.

When it comes to the amount of time soldiers spend at home between deployments, the military has also made strides. In March 2011, U.S. Army Chief of Staff George Casey announced that, beginning in October 2011, members of the National Guard will spend four years at home between deployments. And in September 2011, the military announced that active duty members of the Army would spend two years at home between deployments. Both announcements represent significant improvements from only a few years ago.

Keith Weller, spokesman for the Reserve Officers Association, said that all of those achievements together have ultimately led to predictability in deployment. "Regularity has definitely been achieved,” Weller said.

However, Weller noted a potentially harmful side effect of the achievement. Weller said that because of the regularity in deployments, employers now know exactly when reserve soldiers will be leaving for duty.

Weller said that this could lead to employer discrimination in determining who to hire and is one of the reasons why the unemployment rate - which stood at 13.3 percent in December 2011 for Iraq and Afghanistan-era veterans - remains so high.

Despite that consequence, the administration has nonetheless eliminated the stop-loss policy and has made deployments much more predictable for troops and their families. We rate this a Promise Kept.

Sources:

Interview with Keith Weller, spokesman for the Reserve Officers Association.

Robert Gates, remarks at Senate Appropriations Committee hearing, June 15, 2011 (accessed via Lexis Nexis)

George Casey, remarks at House Armed Services Committee hearing, March 10, 2011 (accessed via Lexis Nexis)

Bureau of Labor Statistics, "Employment Situation of Veterans Summary,” March 20, 2012.  

U.S. National Guard, "JSLC: Citizen-Warrior unemployment rate unacceptable, effective reintegration essential, Panetta says,” Nov. 8, 2011.

New York Times, " ‘Stop-Loss" Will All But End By 2011, Gates Says,” March 18, 2009

Army Times, "Young vets" jobless rate rises to 13.3 percent,” Jan. 6, 2012.

Army Times, "Dwell Time increases to 2 years next month,” Sept. 4, 2011.

Army Times, "New deployment model will boost dwell time,” June 6, 2010.

Army Times, "Army announces switch to 9-month deployments,” Aug. 6, 2011.

Pentagon taking steps to make deployments more predictable

During the presidential campaign, Barack Obama promised to take several steps to ease fatigue among service members, both active and reserve, after years of frequent deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan.

One of those steps was to "establish regularity in deployments: so that active duty and Reserves know what they must expect, rather than the current trend of changing the deployment schedules after they have left home, which harms the morale of troops and their families."

This promise is being addressed by the steps we analyzed in Promise 142. In this item, we will recap those actions, which were begun under President George W. Bush and carried out by Bush and Obama.

One step is to "end the 'stop-loss' program of forcing troops to stay in service beyond their expected commitments."

Ending the stop-loss policy has already been set in motion. In March 2009, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said the policy would be phased out by early 2011, which is the date when the final unit with such troops is slated to come home from Iraq and Afganistan.

Another step is to "limit lengthy deployments to one year for every six years."

Obama promised reservists and National Guard members what is known as "1 to 5" -- reservists would be on duty for one year for every five years of "dwell," or nonservice, time. On several occasions, senior administration members have reiterated "1 to 5" as an official policy goal. For active-duty troops, the goal in the medium term is to return to two years at home for every one year deployed.

In remarks at a National Guard leadership conference in Maryland on Nov. 19, 2009, Gates cited a temporary increase of the active-duty Army by 22,000 as something that will help reduce the need for commanders to rely on reservists and National Guard members.

"I know that predictability is extremely important to the members of the reserve component, who balance and coordinate the timing of their service with full-time jobs," Gates said. "The Air National Guard has used long-range scheduling for predictability and individual volunteerism for flexibility to reach a nearly 1-to-5 ratio in terms of dwell, with the Army National Guard close behind, approaching 1-to-4."

Testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee on May 14, 2009, Gates acknowledged that "we're not there and probably not going to get there in the short term. But I would say late this year or early next, we'll begin to see an increase, perhaps to 15 months at home, a year deployed" for active-duty troops.
 
A key challenge will be to reach the goal in an environment that may require the deployment of additional troops, depending on the military challenges on the ground. But Army Secretary John McHugh has said that the "operational and personnel tempo of the early years of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan clearly were unacceptable."

Achieving its goals on stop-loss and 1 to 5 is clearly something the administration is working on, and moving toward both goals would "establish regularity in deployments," as Promise 141 states. So we rate the promise In the Works.

Sources:

Defense Department, "End to Stop Loss Announced" (news release), March 18, 2009

Robert Gates, remarks by the Defense Secretary at the National Guard Senior Leadership Conference, Nov. 19, 2009 (accessed via Nexis)

Robert Gates, testimony of the Defense Secretary before the Senate Armed Services Committee, May 14, 2009 (accessed via Nexis)

U.S. Army, "McHugh Puts Soldiers, Families at Center of Agenda" (news release), Oct. 20, 2009

New York Times, "U.S. to Give Extra Pay To Troops Held Over," Oct. 22, 2009

ABC News, "Gates Announces End to Army Stop-Loss: Pentagon to Discontinue Policy Critics Often Called a 'Backdoor Draft,'" March 18, 2009

Dennis M. McCarthy, statement of the nominee for Assistant Secretary of Defense for Reserve Affairs to the Senate Armed Services Committee, June 11, 2009 (accessed via Nexis)

E-mail interview with David W. Small, director of communications and Air Force Affairs at the Reserve Officers Association, Jan. 14, 2010