Changes have been made
During his presidential campaign, President Barack Obama said that his administration would work to make easier the lives of members of the military – in particular, those in the Reserve and National Guard.
Obama promised to "limit lengthy deployments to one year for every six years,” to "restore the 24-month limit on cumulative deployment time” and to "end the 'Stop-Loss' program of forcing troops to stay in service beyond their expected commitments.”
Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates had made ending the stop-loss policy one of his goals when he took over his position in 2007, and he announced in March 2009 that the army would end the policy by May 2011.
Gates announced that he had made good on that promise at a June 2011 Senate hearing. "There are no Army soldiers stop lossed,” Gates said.
Obama also promised to restore the military's 24-month limit on cumulative deployment time for members of the National Guard and Reserve. But Lt. Col. Tom Crosson, a spokesman for the Department of Defense, said current policy limits deployments to 12 consecutive months, and no more than 12 cumulative months in any five-year period.
But policy and reality aren't the same thing. And while that ratio hasn't been met, significant progress has been made.
In an Army Times article from June 2008, about six months before Obama took office, Lt. Col. Tim Pheil, deputy chief of the Army Guard's personnel program, said, "right now, we're averaging between one year mobilized and two to three years at home.”
Almost three years later, George Casey, chief of staff for the U.S. Army, said during a March 2011 House appropriations hearing that the ratio had improved significantly. "I will tell you that beginning the 1st of October this year, given what we know about the projected demands...our Guard and Reserve units will deploy with an expectation of having...four years at home when they return,” Casey said.
Weller said that actually measuring that ratio for every member of the guard and reserves is a near-impossible task, "but on the whole it's fair to say the system operates at 4-1.” While that ratio isn't quite at the level that Obama promised, it does show a significant increase since Obama took office.
Taking a broader look at the three promises, the 24-month cumulative deployment limit is superseded by policy setting a limit of 12 months. The administration has ended the stop-loss policy and made significant progress on the dwell ratio. With the administration having made progress on all the elements of this promise, we rate it a Compromise.
Army Times, New deployment model will boost dwell time, June 6, 2010
Associated Press, House ends active duty limits on Guard, reserve troops, Jan. 12, 2007
Robert Gates, remarks at Senate Appropriations Committee hearing, June 15, 2011
George Casey, remarks at House Armed Services Committee hearing, March 10, 2011
E-mail interview with Keith Weller, communications director for the Reserve Officers Association
National Guard News, "Gates: Guard"s domestic missions must not suffer,” Jan. 27, 2009
New York Times, "Military Eases Its Rules for Mobilizing Reserves,” Jan. 12, 2007, via Nexis
Interview with Lt. Col. Tom Crosson, Department of Defense spokesman, Dec. 18 & 19, 2012
Pentagon ending stop-loss, aiming for new on-duty, off-duty ratio
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.
Two of those steps, specifically targeted at Reserve and National Guard members, were to "end the 'stop-loss' program of forcing troops to stay in service beyond their expected commitments" and to "limit lengthy deployments to one year for every six years."
Ending the stop-loss policy was initially set in motion under President George W. Bush and has been carried out by both Bush and Obama. In March 2009, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said the policy would be phased out by early 2011, which is when the final units with such troops are slated to come home from Iraq and Afghanistan.
As for the ratio of on-duty to downtime, Obama promised 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.
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."
Other senior military officials have cited the goal as well.
In a June 11, 2009, statement to the Senate Armed Services Committee, Dennis M. McCarthy, then the nominee for Assistant Secretary of Defense for Reserve Affairs, said the "1-to-5" goal was feasible.
"I believe the 1-to-5 dwell-time ratio is achievable and progress is being made toward that goal," McCarthy said in his statement. "We must ensure that continuing efforts to rebalance active and reserve component units in high demand/low supply capabilities are completed."
As Gates indicated, not all services have reached this goal. 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.
In an Oct. 20, 2009, Army news release, Army Secretary John McHugh acknowledged that these goals "will not happen overnight. And like any plan ... it is subject to change and the issues of supply and demand. The plan will be affected by the situation in Iraq and, possibly, Afghanistan. ... If progress in Iraq continues, the command there can draw down forces faster. If President Barack Obama decides to add forces to Afghanistan, this also affects the dwell-time calculus."
But McHugh added that the "operational and personnel tempo of the early years of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan clearly were unacceptable."
In a May 14, 2009, appearance before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Gates said of the dwell ratios that "we're not there and probably (are) not going to get there in the short term." But achieving its goals on stop-loss and 1 to 5 is clearly something the administration is working on, so we rate the promise In the Works.
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