The U.S. Army is under increasing pressure to use six month combat tours,
rather than the twelve months ones it has been using for over half a century.
This issue came up recently when the army noticed that the emergency 15 month
tours used for the 2007 Surge Offensive in Iraq led to much higher rates of PTSD
and noticeably lower morale.
The army has
been aware of a "tour length problem" for some time. Two years ago,
the army again seriously considered the use of shorter combat tours in Iraq and
Afghanistan, largely because of the Internet buzz from troops who had been in
touch with marines and air force personnel who already enjoy 6-7 month tours. But
the brass decided against any change.
ago the army considered, and decided against, reducing 12 month tour of duty in
places like Afghanistan and Iraq, to six or seven months. Then, and now, there
were two main reasons for not having shorter tours. First, the army units are
the most heavily involved in reconstruction and peacekeeping. This involves
direct contact with locals and it takes time to build relationships. New units
coming in take a month or so to get tight with the local relationships the
units before them had built up, and are passing on. So if you cut the tour to
six months, you have less time in country with all your local connections
The second problem has to do with the special
training units go through before they are sent overseas. This would be the same
for a twelve or six month tour. Actually, National Guard and reserve units go
through more training than active duty troops, and would suffer even more from
the shorter tours.
for even considering a change has come from the troops themselves, via the Internet.
Over the last four years, many soldiers and marines (both officers and
enlisted) have been comparing notes. Not just via email, but often face-to-face
while in Iraq or back in the states. The Internet has made it easier for soldiers and marines
to get connected. Another factor is the greater respect the marines have for
soldiers. Since World War II, the marines saw themselves as elite volunteers,
obviously superior to all those reluctant draftees in the army. There was some
truth to this, but that has changed since the army went all volunteer in the
1970s, and especially since the army developed exceptional new training methods
two decades ago. First in the 1991 Gulf War, than in Afghanistan and Iraq, the
marines could see that the soldiers were not just volunteers, but pretty
professional and bad ass. This made it easier for troops from the two services
to compare their experiences and exchange combat tips. One of the comparisons
involved the seven month and twelve month tours. Bottom line was that, while
there were hassles with the shorter tour, it was much better in the mental
health, and domestic tranquility departments. Even if soldiers and marines did
the same number of months in Iraq, the consensus was that it was earlier to
handle six or seven months at a time. Wives and kids liked it better as well,
which is a big deal since over half the troops are married. A third factor has
to do with the "no booze" policy in combat zones. While many guys can
unwind with Xbox and a Marlboro, others really need a few beers. Twelve months,
even if broken up by one or two short vacations, is a long time to go without
an occasional drink.
Currently, the army has decided there will be
no more 15 month tours unless there is a dire emergency. But there won't be six
month tours either, not just yet. First the army wants to give the troops more time
at home between 12 month tours. Some
officers, however, are urging that there at least be some experimentation with
six month tours, to see to what degree morale, and re-enlistments increase.