Possible Iraq Deployments Would Stretch Reserve Force
Leaders Express Concern Over Troop Rotation Plans
By Ann Scott Tyson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, November 5, 2006; A01
The Army's National Guard and Reserve are bracing for possible new and accelerated call-ups, spurred by high demand for U.S. troops in Iraq, that leaders caution could undermine the citizen-soldier force as it struggles to rebuild.
Two Army National Guard combat brigades with about 7,000 troops have been identified recently in classified rotational plans for possible special deployment to Iraq, according to senior Army and Pentagon officials, who asked that the specific units not be named. One brigade could be diverted to Iraq next year from another assignment, and the other could be sent there in 2008, a year ahead of schedule.
Next year, the number of Army Guard soldiers providing security in Iraq will surge to more than 6,000 in about 50 companies, compared with 20 companies two years ago, Guard officials said. "We thought we'd see a downturn in operational tempo, but that hasn't happened," said one official.
A more sweeping policy shift is under consideration that would allow the Pentagon to launch a new wave of involuntary mobilizations of the reserves, as a growing proportion of Guard and Reserve soldiers are nearing a 24-month limit on time deployed, they said. Army officials said no decision had been made on the politically sensitive topic but that serious deliberations will unfold in the coming months.
Senior Army leaders have made clear that without a bigger active-duty force, the only way they can maintain the intense pace of rotations in Iraq and Afghanistan is by relying more heavily on the reserves, which make up 52 percent of the Army's total manpower. The Army as a whole is providing the bulk of the forces in today's wars, with about 105,000 soldiers in Iraq and 16,000 in Afghanistan.
Stress on soldiers and their families is mounting as active-duty combat brigades now spend only a year to 14 months home between rotations, compared with a goal of two years -- a trend that Army leaders worry is not sustainable in the long term.
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