The day after President Bush announced his plan for a deeper U.S. military commitment in Iraq, Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters the change in reserve policy would have been made anyway because active-duty troops already were getting too little time between their combat tours.
The Pentagon also announced it is proposing to Congress that the size of the Army be increased by 65,000, to 547,000 and that the Marine Corps, the smallest of the services, grow by 27,000, to 202,000, over the next five years. No cost estimate was provided, but officials said it would be at least several billion dollars.
Until now, the Pentagon's policy on the Guard or Reserve was that members' cumulative time on active duty for the Iraq or Afghan wars could not exceed 24 months. That cumulative limit is now lifted; the remaining limit is on the length of any single mobilization, which may not exceed 24 consecutive months, Pace said.
In other words, a citizen-soldier could be mobilized for a 24-month stretch in Iraq or Afghanistan, then demobilized and allowed to return to civilian life, only to be mobilized a second time for as much as an additional 24 months. In practice, Pace said, the Pentagon intends to limit all future mobilizations to 12 months.
Members of the Guard combat brigades that have served in Iraq in recent years spent 18 months on active duty — about six months in pre-deployment training in the United States, followed by about 12 months in Iraq. Under the old policy, they could not be sent back to Iraq because their cumulative time on active duty would exceed 24 months. Now that cumulative limit has been lifted, giving the Pentagon more flexibility.
The new approach, Pace said, is to squeeze the training, deployment and demobilization into a maximum of 12 months. He called that a "significant planning factor" for Guard and Reserve members and their families.
A senior U.S. military official who briefed reporters Thursday on Iraq-related developments said that by next January, the Pentagon "probably will be calling again" on National Guard combat brigades that previously served yearlong tours in Iraq. Under Pentagon ground rule, the official could not be further identified.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates, appearing with Pace, announced several other changes in Guard and Reserve policy:
The announcement has stirred concern and confusion among Guard and Reservists across the country.
The Minnesota-based 1st Brigade Combat Team had its yearlong tour extended by up to 125 days.
Minnesota's adjutant general, Maj. Gen. Larry Shellito, said Thursday the team will be back no later than July, but it wasn't known if its mission will change. The citizen soldiers have been performing a wide variety of duties in all parts of Iraq.
Shellito expressed the disappointment of Minnesota Guard members and their families, who had been planning a return home in March,
"They've had a calendar on the wall, they've been marking off the days at home, so they have built an expectation that has to be readjusted," Shellito said.
"Was it unexpected? Definitely. Was it appreciated? No."
Shellito used stronger language in an e-mail to families, as reported by CBS affiliate WCCO-TV correspondent Lisa Kiava.
"Is this a raw deal? Of course!" Shellito wrote. "We have every right to be angry, but the reality is that the long awaited homecoming will be pushed back."
Across Minnesota, families of Guard members who are going to be staying in Iraq longer than they'd hoped expressed a mixture of disappointment and pride Thursday.
Rod Stroud, of Dalton, father of Sgt. Scott Stroud, had hoped that the extension would be for only 30 to 60 days. The father exclaimed "oh for crying out loud" when he found out Thursday it would be twice as long. He said his son didn't know how long the extra tour would be when he e-mailed him earlier in the morning.