Soldiers in Afghanistan, Iraq to serve longer tours

first_imgAnthony Cordesman, an Iraq watcher at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said the decision to add three months to the standard tour of duty was necessary, even though it will create more hardships for soldiers with families. It also will interfere with the normal cycle of soldiers’ career development by keeping them away from the kinds of schoolhouse work they must do to position for promotions. Early reaction from Army families, however, indicated that many saw the latest news coming and were prepared for it. Sharon Konvicka, whose husband, 36-year-old Sgt. Michael Konvicka of Flint, Mich., deployed in January with the 1st Brigade of the 3rd Infantry Division from Fort Stewart, Ga., said she was not surprised. “None of us really expected them home in a year because of the situation that was going on,” Sharon Konvicka said Wednesday. “Don’t get me wrong. I can imagine a lot of spouses are probably a bit disappointed their loved ones aren’t returning in a year. But that’s just the life.” The new policy immediately affects about 100,000 active-duty soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan, plus those who will deploy in coming months. All will get an extra $1,000 a month for each month they serve beyond 12 months. The extended tours are a price the Army must pay to sustain the troop buildup that President George W. Bush ordered in January as part of his rearranged strategy for stabilizing Baghdad and averting a U.S. defeat. Troop levels are being boosted from 15 brigades to 20 brigades, and to keep that up beyond summer, the Army faced harsh choices: Either send units to Iraq after less than 12 months at home, or extend tours. WASHINGTON – A thinly stretched Army just got thinner. All active-duty soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan have been informed they will serve 15- month tours – three months longer than the previous standard. Rather than continuing its recent practice of deciding on tour extensions on a unit-by-unit basis, the Pentagon decided to spread the pain evenly, giving longer tours to all. Defense Secretary Robert Gates cast the news in a positive light, saying more soldiers and Army families will benefit from a predictable deployment schedule, which he said would ensure that they get at least 12 months at home between deployments. But he also acknowledged that the strains of war are mounting. “Our forces are stretched; there’s no question about that,” Gates told a Pentagon news conference Wednesday. Reaction on Capitol Hill to Gates’ announcement was harsh. “Extending the tours of all active-duty Army personnel is an unacceptable price for our troops and their families to pay,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. Rep. Ike Skelton, D-Mo., chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said the longer tours will have a “chilling effect” on recruiting and the Army’s ability to keep soldiers from quitting the service. “We also must not underestimate the enormous negative impact this will have on Army families,” Skelton said. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who supports the troop buildup, said of the affected soldiers: “They’ll be disappointed, but they’ll do it.” Indeed, at Fort Bliss, Texas, home of the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, some Army families took the news in stride. Carol Frennier, whose husband, Command Sgt. Maj. Steve Frennier, is in Iraq, said she had prepared herself and her family for a longer deployment. “They kind of told us to expect 12 months to 18 months,” she said. “We were already prepared to have them extended.” And her family has been through an extended tour of duty before. “Last time they said nine months, and it was 14 months,” Frennier said. At a Pentagon news conference, Gates said it was too early to estimate how long the troop buildup would last but that his new policy would give the Pentagon the capability to maintain the higher force levels until next April.160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!last_img