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.
Sgt. Stroud had hoped to be home from Iraq in time for his daughter Mikayla's ninth birthday. Mikayla, who'll turn 9 on April 18th, is holding up "for the most part pretty good," her grandfather said. "He does get a chance to communicate once in a while. He spoke to her Monday evening."
In Warren, Spc. Christopher Kliner's parents left up their Christmas tree expecting he'd be home in March.
"We'll still have a celebration even if he comes home in the summer or a later date," said his father, Robert Kliner. "We'll still have Christmas for him."
In Eden Valley, Julia McCann, mother of Sgt. John McCann, said she was proud of her son for volunteering to join the Guard but that the extension "really ticks me off."
"He's got three children at home and they miss their dad," she said, adding that she believes the 1st Brigade Combat Team has already done its duty. "Let someone else do their duty and go over there."
About 640 Iowa National Guard soldiers who were hoping to come home this spring have been ordered to stay in Iraq several more months.
Florida Guard officials say that they expect to contribute as many as 500 additional troops to duty in Iraq. The Florida National Guards currently has 1,000 men and women on active duty in Iraq, Afghanistan and Kuwait.
Tennessee's National Guard probably won't join the initial troop surge in Iraq planned by President Bush. The state's top military official, Major General Gus Hargett, said that no new Tennessee units have been alerted for deployment.
Meanwhile, the Marines announced that two infantry units — the 3rd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, and the 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment — will stay in Iraq 60 to 90 days longer than scheduled. That will enable the Marines to have a total of eight infantry battalions in western Anbar province, instead of the current six, by February. Once the 60- to 90-day extension is over, an additional two battalions will be sent in early from their U.S. bases.
Also, the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit, which combines infantry with a helicopter squadron and a logistics battalion, totaling about 2,200 Marines, will stay in Anbar for 45 more days.
Those extensions conform with Bush's announcement that he was ordering 4,000 more Marines to Anbar.
The military tries to avoid extending combat tours and sending forces earlier than planned because it disrupts the lives of troops and their families and makes it harder for the services to get all troops through the education and training programs they need for promotions. But in this case it was deemed unavoidable.