The Push for a Deeper Deployment Pool

Army Times

June 9, 2008 – In the Army’s ongoing push to provide fresh troops for the war zone and give a break to repeat deployers, personnel officials are targeting not only soldiers who have never gone, but also those whose combat tours were brief or long ago.

Now experts are tracking every soldier’s deployment record, zeroing in on a formula that considers frequency, length and total months in a combat zone, as well as skills, experience and availability.

They’re keying in on what they call the “deployment equity” factor, seeking to fill combat-zone demand with soldiers who have minimal boots-on-the-ground time. At Human Resources Command in Alexandria, Va., career branch managers scour the rolls for deployable soldiers while they look for at-home assignments for those with multiple combat tours.

The new focus on the duration of those tours, rather than just the number of deployments, is an evolution of the deployment process after seven years of war in Iraq and Afghanistan, HRC officers say.

“We have officers who may have multiple deployments for maybe 90 days at a time,” said Lt. Col. John Waller, branch chief for company-grade logistics officers.

He manages captains, he said, “who may have deployed three times but only for a maximum of a year, while other officers may have two deployments of 12 and 15 months each and are now on their third. So we dig deeper; it’s not just the number of times deployed but the total number of months deployed.”

Army records show that more than 30,000 soldiers have never deployed, and thousands more logged only months in the war zone or have not been there for years.

Personnel officials say fairness dictates that these soldiers be placed in operational units before those with multiple combat tours of a year or more are again issued deployment orders.

Nearly 525,000 active-duty soldiers have deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan, Army data show, including 204,000 who have served more than one combat tour. Many have served three, four or even five rotations.

Today, 140,000 soldiers are serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. A new round of deployments begins in the fall for 38,000 soldiers, 21,000 of them from active-duty units.

Software helps
Officers and warrant officers make up 16 percent of the Army, and their career managers stay in touch with them by e-mail and phone, even in the larger combat arms branches such as infantry, which has more than 6,000 officers. Their deployment time is tracked on an individual basis through that correspondence and electronic records.

Managers for the Army’s majority of enlisted soldiers use a Web-based software program that shows a detailed view of each soldier’s specialty, availability and deployment history. That program was refined after its first iteration in 2007 to show the frequency of deployments. It has been refined again to show the number of months a soldier has spent at war.

“At least we have the tools to do the best possible job we can,” said Deborah Jacobs, chief of operations for the management division of the Enlisted Personnel Management Directorate, which designed the program and manages the staff that continues to refine it.

“when people say, ‘Oh, they don’t even know I’ve deployed five times,’ that’s just not true,” she said. “We do know, and we do care about that.” Deployment duration is measured in months, and any soldier receiving hostile-fire pay is counted as deployed, regardless of location, according to HRC.

The time-away clock starts ticking, Jacobs said, when the deploying unit submits the names and Social Security numbers of its soldiers to HRC at any point between home-station departure and when they arrive in theater.

The ticking stops when that unit submits the data upon redeployment. The same information is being used to determine dwell time, which, as of now, is based on a one-for-one match of up to 12 months. So a soldier who deploys for six months is supposed to get six months’ dwell time. On the other hand, a soldier deployed for 15 months is guaranteed only up to 12 months.

Soldiers get tapped for new deployment orders based on skill, experience, availability and deployment history.

For example, if a unit requests a certain number of soldiers in a specific military occupational specialty in the military intelligence branch, that branch manager will search for the names of all the soldiers in the MOS and, by process of elimination using those variables, end up with a short list of eligible soldiers.

In that group, if their skills, experience and availability are equal, the branch manager will turn to the soldiers’ deployment history to make a decision, “on the rare occasion that you would find all variables equal,” Jacobs noted.

Until recently, the “deployment history” category was not available as part of the equation.

Some deployment decisions are made based on a soldier’s need, such as an infantryman who may not have logged platoon sergeant time. If he is compared with a soldier who has already done his platoon sergeant time, he’s likely to be the one chosen.

“We have a lot of soldiers who do want to deploy and are volunteering to deploy, because in today’s environment, that right shoulder patch is very important for promotion, professional development and all those things,” Jacobs said.

There is no mathematical equation, Jacobs said, adding, “If there were a cookie-cutter approach we could take, we wouldn’t need people to do our jobs.”

Ironically, the Defense Department shelved a plan for “high-deployment pay,” a formula that would have compensated troops for repeat war tours. Now, not only is the Army tracking individual deployment time, it has pushed a “warrior pay” proposal that would reward soldiers for cumulative time on combat tours.

Who’s doing what
Data compiled by HRC between Oct. 1, 2001, and March 1 shows that 63.6 percent of active-duty soldiers had deployment history, 9.2 percent had pending deployment orders, 7.4 percent were in basic training and 1.7 percent were unavailable to deploy because of medical, legal or other circumstances.

Another 11.5 percent of the active-duty population was listed as recruiters or drill sergeants; in transit, training or some other hold status; or in operational units that may have just redeployed and have no current deployment orders.

The remaining 6.7 percent of soldiers — about 35,000 active-duty troops — are eligible for reassignment to operational units or for an individual replacement requirement. They work in non-operational units, largely under organizations such as Training and Doctrine Command or the Pentagon.

Deployment numbers will never reach a 100 percent rate, according to HRC officials, because of the constantly shifting nature of the Army’s population. That includes growth of the force, which is programmed to reach 547,000 by the end of fiscal 2010, and the loss of soldiers who leave the Army at a rate of about 80,000 each year, taking their deployment history with them.

With the combination of seven years of war with increasingly steady, lengthy rotations, and the predictions by Army leadership that the U.S. is in for a period of persistent conflict, branch managers are more focused than ever on that deployment equity, they say, because people are tired, families are stressed to the max and equipment is worn.

Infantry officer branch chief Lt. Col. Ron Clark, who manages the careers of more than 6,100 infantry officers, offered as an example the 808 infantry majors he has on his radar screen.

“Only eight have not deployed, and five of those have pending deployment orders,” he said. “A number of them have deployed multiple times … the high end is 49 months deployed. So it’s a question of equity, of making sure we don’t rotate officers into the fight too quickly again.”

Clark pointed out that although a good number of infantry captains are going through Infantry Officer Basic Course, Basic Officer Leadership Course or Maneuver Captains Career Course at any given time, the units that are deploying are always 100 percent manned. Conversely, some non-operational assignments are going unfilled because of the war-zone demand.

The same is true for Clark’s counterpart on the enlisted infantry side, Col. Marlon Blocker, who searches for deployment and dwell opportunities for more than 62,000 enlisted infantrymen, the Army’s largest military occupational specialty.

“We’re almost beyond the point of finding soldiers who have not deployed,” Blocker said.

He said that his effort is focused as much on those with multiple deployments as it is on those who want to keep going to the war zone.

He pointed out that high re-enlistment rates are helping alleviate the war-zone demand because many of those re-upping are requesting to return to the war zone.

“We have senior NCOs who are reaching retirement dates and requesting to go to deploying units. There are a lot of infantry soldiers who are trying to get back into the fight again,” he said.

Balancing the needs of the institutional Army and the requirement to fill deploying units means somebody has to make do with less. That is reflected, for example, in TRADOC centers and schools where cadres that might normally be manned with eight instructors would have to make do with six or less.

“We do have enough captains to fill the combat formations, but with modularity and transformation, the growth of the Army, the projected growth of the Army, and attrition to a lesser degree, we don’t have enough captains to fill the organizations that aren’t combat formations,” said Lt. Col. Jamie Inman, who manages the careers of about 4,300 field artillery officers.

“We’re meeting our requirement for the [war] at the expense to a degree of the institutional Army,” Inman said, citing statements made by Army Chief of Staff Gen. George Casey, who has testified before Congress on several occasions that the Army “is out of balance” because of the requirements of overseas commitments.

“There are some specialties that are a few short right now, and there’s a plan to address that in the coming years,” said Col. Thomas Webb, chief of the Officer Personnel Management Directorate. “But you can figure it out, it’s not that hard, our focus is on the fight forward and we’re going to meet the mission.”

Military intelligence branch chief Lt. Col. Bryan DeCoster said his soldiers are “right up there with logistics, field artillery and infantry” with its captains, 93 percent of whom have deployed.

“That’s primarily because the company-grade officers are most in demand downrange, and then MI is a very large requirement with the transition teams,” DeCoster said of the small, embedded transition teams training Iraqi and Afghan security forces in partnered arrangements, sometimes within a brigade or assigned directly from training at Fort Riley, Kan.

Enlisted military intelligence soldiers who specialize in human intelligence collection or the operation of unmanned aerial vehicles are in high demand, as well.

On the other hand, DeCoster said, about a third of the MI MOSs are in signal intelligence, and a lot of the soldiers in that field support missions that don’t send them to the war zones, such as working with the National Security Agency at Fort Meade, Md.

Some MI soldiers whose MOSs are related but not in high demand, such as signals collectors and analysts, are volunteering to go in other roles that are required “because they want to be professionally developed downrange.”

“But,” he said, “you can only do so much of that substituting of MOSs. They are the ones processing the signals intelligence that’s gathered downrange from a number of stations worldwide needed at NSA.”

Transportation Corps branch chief Lt. Col. Vic Harmon said he has seen some of the same volunteerism in his branch, where some soldiers in one of the Army’s highest priority MOSs, truck driver, 88M, ask to be kept in their deploying units. The 88M MOS is chronically short, and the Army offers bonuses to soldiers who reclass into that job. Soldiers from other MOSs, such as field artillery, are retrained or involuntarily reclassed to be truck drivers.

“When we go through the process to take some of these soldiers out of these units and instead of deploying put them elsewhere, they want to stay in these units. They want to stay,” Harmon said.

Another trend branch managers are seeing is an increase in the number of enlisted soldiers contacting them directly at HRC in phone calls or e-mails from Iraq and Afghanistan, or when they get home from deployment.

“They’re more inclined to call,” Blocker said. “They go to the Web site, find their branch and there’s a phone number.”

Col. Louis Henkel, chief of the Enlisted Personnel Management Directorate, said soldiers are starting to get used to the fact that when they redeploy, they likely will be on the move quickly either to a school or another post or unit.

“I think what you have is a new dynamic. There’s an opportunity when a unit gets back, soldiers inherently know something’s going to happen,” Henkel said. “Before the [war], a soldier was on an installation and there wasn’t that mechanism. Soldiers know that when they get home, something’s going to happen or they’re going to go somewhere, and they want to try and influence that.”

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