April 14, 2009:
In continuing efforts to ensure that everyone gets a chance to serve in a combat zone, the U.S. Marine Corps now allow troops who are in the midst of a two year overseas tour in a non-combat area, to be pulled out of their assignment and sent to a unit about to deploy on a six month tour in Afghanistan. The marines are no longer going to Iraq, so Afghanistan is the only war they've got. This is just the latest effort to insure that every marine gets a chance to see combat. Combat troops in both the marines and army are eager to serve in combat. It's what they train for, and the attitude is, if you don't get to see some action, you're not a real combat trooper. This is even more important in the marines, where their doctrine insists that "every marine is a rifleman." So even marines in support jobs want to go into harm's way.
Despite eight years of war, and the heavy demand for troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, several hundred thousand soldiers and marines have not been to a combat zone. Two years ago, it was noticed that a larger proportion of marines (45 percent) than soldiers (37 percent) have not been to the sand box. It's not for want of trying. The army and marine brass have made very public efforts to get everyone a chance to spend time in a combat zone. Most troops are eager to do this, at least once. However, while the main point of being in the military is to be in combat, over 80 percent of those in uniform have jobs that are not combat related.
There are many aspects of military life that make it impossible to get everyone into the combat zone. The main factors are jobs that are not needed in Iraq or Afghanistan, and the need for troops in other parts of the world. For example, U.S. Air Force Predator UAVs are operated by crews stationed in the United States. That's because the Predator uses a satellite communications link, and it's easier to keep the operators in the United States, than station them in Iraq or Afghanistan. An increasing number of military jobs are using this "reach back" technique, but a lot of troops don't like it because they don't get to the combat zone. The marines and army have many jobs that are not needed in the combat zone. For example, technicians that operate or maintain equipment that is not used in the combat zone (some types of electronics gear, and some weapons.) The troops stationed in Europe, the Pacific and other areas, often serve two or three year tours there. Since most new troops sign up for four years, thus leaving no time for an Iraq deployment, after time spent on training, and a three year tour somewhere else. Moreover, training (including basic training) keeps 180,000 troops, in all the services, occupied at any time.
Air force and navy personnel are also in the combat zones, although not as much right in the middle of it as are soldiers and marines. Thus about half of air force personnel, and sailors have not been to the combat zone, or adjacent regions.