Army units in Iraq could have shorter tours of duty
The Army will move to shorter tours of duty in Iraq as American forces take on different roles in the months ahead. Gen. Peter Schoomaker, the Army chief of staff, told U.S. News that the Army intends to move to six-month and nine-month tours for brigades serving in Iraq, as opposed to the customary full year.
Army officers have said that in the coming months they hope to move their forces out of Iraqi cities and convert them into quick-reaction forces that can come to the aid of Iraqi police and army units. Schoomaker refused to put a timetable on such changes, saying the change would be based on when Iraq becomes more stable.
"As we do more strategic overwatch I believe we will be moving in the direction of nine-month or six-month tours," he said. "We will be reserve or reaction forces."
Soldiers complain the year-long tours are stressful because they keep them away from their families for far too long. Others said the long tours could put soldiers at risk because they become lackadaisical or lose focus. The Army examined whether they could move to a shorter tour more akin to the seven-month tours of marines.
But Schoomaker said the Army believes that currently the longer tours are better for the stability of Iraq and safer for the soldiers.
"In a situation we are in it is important to have continuitypeople learn the streets, they learn the enemy," he said. "It's also a fact your greatest period of vulnerability is when you get into theater." Shorter tours would create more rookies, and therefore more casualties, Schoomaker said.
But he said as the U.S. role in Iraq becomes more like the military's role in the Balkans, it would be possible to have shorter tours without putting soldiers at risk. "When we can ... operate more like we did in Bosnia and Kosovo, [shorter tours] is the way to go," he said. "It's much more sustainable."
Schoomaker said moving to the shorter rotations will be based on "conditions." But the Pentagon has already said it will be pulling out several brigades from Iraq and instead stationing them as a quick-reaction force in the Kuwait desert. That means it is possible that some Army units deploying to Iraq either later this year or next could see shorter tours.