For the last several years, our Armed Forces have been plagued by a lack of what is known as dwell time -- the amount of time Soldiers have at home with their families between deployments. In 2008, I was personally assured by an Obama campaign surrogate that dwell time would be increasing under Obama's military leadership. Even in January of this year, Defense Secretary Robert Gates assured military families that they would have more time together before sending their loved ones back to combat:
WASHINGTON -- Combat troops should get 15 months home for every 12 months deployed by October, and 30 months dwell time by October 2011, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said Tuesday.
In testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Gates said the anticipated drawdown in Iraq and planned growth in Army and Marine Corps should allow commanders to give servicemembers longer dwell time.
And even as late as Tuesday, the day of the President's speech outlining his plan to send 30,000 additional troops to Afghanistan in the next six months while not increasing the pace of withdrawal from Iraq, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen stated that this would not have an effect on dwell time:
Deployment lengths for U.S. servicemembers will remain about the same - seven months for Marines, and 12 months for soldiers. With the planned reduction in U.S. forces in Iraq to 50,000 by August 2010, Mullen said he doesn't expect an adverse affect on dwell time - the time between deployments. Dwell time will increase slightly for Marines over the next year and for soldiers over the next two years, he said.
And in fact, directly after the President's speech, I personally spoke with a senior White House official who informed me that all of the service chiefs had reviewed this strategy and that no adverse effects on dwell time were anticipated.
So is everyone good on that time line? In 2008 during the campaign, in January right after the inauguration, the day before the speech, and directly after the speech military families were assured that their time with their loved ones would not be lessened as a result of this already questionable strategy.
The build up also will put more strain on troops by giving them less time than hoped for at home. Mullen said supplying the extra forces for Afghanistan while there are still so many in Iraq will mean putting off for a couple of years the goal of lengthening the time they rest and retrain at home in between tours of duty -- a period the military calls "dwell time." The Army had been moving toward giving two years of dwell time between each one-year tour.
That's from Congressional testimony yesterday before the Senate Armed Services Committee on the Afghanistan strategy, spoken the day after Mullen told us dwell time would be increasing and a few hours after the White House assured me that this policy would have no adverse affect on dwell time.
Reacting to Admiral Mullen's testimony, Iraq War Veteran and VoteVets.org Chairman Jon Soltz voiced his own concerns:
This is just one of the troubling consequences of the Obama strategy for Afghanistan. Can we really guarantee Dwell Time for troops at least equal to the length of their deployments? What about ending Stop Loss, or not using the Individual Ready Reserve (IRR), or mobilizations that are no longer than 12 months for the National Guard and Reserve? All of those could be in jeopardy. These concerns are why VoteVets.org can't endorse this strategy. The math doesn't add up, and Admiral Mullen's testimony raises more concerns and questions than answers.
Admiral Mullen's testimony simply illustrates that the concerns voiced in the aftermath of the Command-in-Chief's speech by VoteVets.org are real, legitimate and valid. The question, on this issue, now becomes whether the effect on dwell time is an isolated issue, or the first in the force sustainability card house to fall with 12-month deployments and an end to stop-loss tumbling after. The President and his national security apparatus made a promise to America's military families, and those families deserve to have the promise kept.