Cycle of Redeployment Tough on Troops

Repeated deployments to warzones, coupled with shorted deployments and breaks in between, are placing tremendous pressure on today’s troops.

In order to make the drawn-out wars in Iraq and Afghanistan bearable, the military has turned to shorter deployments, followed by short returns home before redeploying—yet this may instead be placing additional stress on troops.

“The problem is that troops are being rotated in and out,” said retired Col. Barry Searle, a veteran of several American wars, including Afghanistan, in a phone interview.

“Basically, the Army is at war but the nation isn’t,” Searle said. “You have a finite number of people—the war has been going on now for 10 years, and we’re just wearing them out.”

The all-volunteer military was not intended for the drawn-out wars the United States is now embedded in. Defense Secretary Robert Gates explained in a Sept. 2010 speech that the experimental structure began near the end of the Vietnam War and was “designed to train, prepare, and deploy for a major and quick conventional conflict.”

Although the military has met recruitment quotas from volunteers, repeated deployments are placing pressure on troops “and especially on their families,” Gates said.

Although the shorter deployments with more visits home were intended to help alleviate this pressure, there is common sentiment among troops and experts that this is instead causing more pressure—tying into post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and high suicide rates.

“They’re trying to extend the time that people are home, but a lot of the PTSD and other issues that are developing are because people come back,” Searle said. “They basically just get partially re-acclimated to civilian life, then they get grabbed again.”

Searle added, “It’s like a bad dream that never ends.”

There are varying deployment cycles under the current system. Marines will often deploy for six months, while the Air Force has both a six-month and a three-month program: deploying for several months, returning home for the same amount of time, and then repeating the cycle.

This is in stark contrast to previous wars. In Vietnam, troops would serve a year in combat then go home for a year, and troops who decided to stay in the military may not have had to redeploy unless they chose to.

“You did one year and you were done,” Searle said.

Today, troops who want to serve long terms in the military will often continue redeploying, and according to Gates, “in some cases the highest propensity to re-enlist” comes from within units already in the fight.

Coming Home

With these troops, the short deployments can have a particularly wearing effect, as many “find that coming home is, in fact, harder than going to war,” states a Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) guide forreturning veterans.

“Physically and mentally, it hurts a lot. A lot of the time you don’t have enough time to just get yourself together before you go in again,” said Fang Wong, one of the leading candidates to become the next American Legion National Commander, in a phone interview. The American Legion is the largest veteran service group in the country.

“Another thing is your family—your close family, your loved ones—you never seem to have enough time to be reintroduced,” Wong said.

The cycle that the troops go through when returning home has changed because of this, according to a Nov. 2010 report by Promises2Kids, a non-profit organization against child abuse and neglect.

Deployment cycles used to have four main phases: pre-deployment, deployment, reunion, and post-deployment.

Post-deployment, when troops return home to their families and communities, “was seen as the terminalphase of the deployment cycle,” states the report.

This changed in 2001, however, and for many families the structure has “collapsed into a repeating spiral pattern where these remaining threephases overlap,” and the stress and worry becomes unending. “Many military families are faced with the stress of preparing for repeated deployments, sometimes soon after reunion.” states the report.

According to Wong, “People will always volunteer, but nonetheless, the majority of the troops will be made of units that had to be rotated in. The problem is, if you don’t have enough pieces to move around, sometimes it’s unavoidable. It’s regrettable that we have to do that.”