Morale: Nine Months


August 14, 2011: After years of planning and promises, this January the U.S. Army troops will start serving combat tours of nine months instead of twelve. By the end of next year, this new policy will be fully implemented. At the same time, the army is increasing dwell time (how long troops are at their home base, between combat tours) to three years. While all this is great for morale, it has also been found to reduce PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or combat fatigue) losses. This has been the experience of Britain and the U.S. Marine Corps, both of whom have long used 6-7 month combat tours, and have lots of data to back up the superiority of this approach. Despite that, many army commanders resisted moving to six month tours, thus the compromise on nine. The army has been using the 12 month combat tours since the early 1950s.

The army began considering sending its troops to Iraq for shorter periods of time eight years ago. Then, as now, the reason for doing so was to help troops better cope with the stresses of combat. But at the time, U.S. military personnel were all going there for different lengths of time. If you were in the army, you went for 12 months, while air force people stayed only four months. Most navy personnel were there for six months at a time. Marine combat troops go for seven months, although marine headquarters units stay for twelve months. The army long believed that the 12 or 13 month tour was necessary because of the need for troops to get to know their surroundings, and the people they have to deal with. But the marines, who do the same work as the army troops, only stay for seven months. The army has noted that the there is little difference in the performance of army and marine units, and that played a large role in the decision to adopt the shorter marine type deployments. The army believes that this will help with recruiting, and keeping people who are career troops.

The 12 and 13 month tour dates back to the Korean war, when so many World War II veterans in the reserves were called up to fight in yet another war. This was considered unfair, as was the traditional policy of keeping troops in the combat zone for the duration (until the war was over.) So, as a political expedient to deal with a widely unpopular war, the 13 month tour was established. It was used once more in Vietnam.

The shorter air force tour is justified by the fact that air force personnel are just going to another air base to work with other air force people, doing the same thing they did back in the states. Except for an occasional mortar attack or ambush, that is. Most navy people are out in the Persian Gulf, here one patch of open water is pretty much like any other. Six months seemed about right for being away from the comforts of land bases.

The army had another reason for the shorter tour, especially for combat troops. The action is pretty intense if you are infantry, armor or aviation. And the army knows from long experience that the longer you keep combat troops in continuous action, the more stress problems you have. Even though troops are given two weeks of vacation while in Iraq, making the tour of duty shorter is an attractive option, and will probably at least be tried by the army.






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