Pentagon won’t say if troop deployment tempo exceeds recommended goal

by Vern Evans

The Defense Department is still operating under a 2021 policy that sets a goal for active duty units to spend three months at home for every month they spend deployed, a spokeswoman confirmed to Military Times on Friday, but the Pentagon won’t disclose how often it’s being met.

The policy, which technically expired in November but is still part of the department’s force management guidance, includes a waiver process for units to revert to the mandatory minimum 1:2 deployment-to-dwell ratio, but the numbers on waiver requests and approvals are classified, Army Maj. Grace Geiger said.

“The Department has multiple processes in place to identify, approve, and track individuals and units not meeting the goal,” she added, including oversight from the services, the Joint Staff and the defense secretary’s office.

The Pentagon had not answered follow-up questions seeking details of these oversight processes as of Friday afternoon.

Questions about the Pentagon policy emerged following an Army Times investigation last week that found that members of Army armor brigades — units that largely have not met the dwell time goals over the past decade — were twice as likely to kill themselves than other active duty soldiers in recent years.

Long periods of high operational tempo can increase a service member’s suicide risk, according to Craig Bryan, a psychologist and mental health researcher at Ohio State University who spoke to Army Times.

Bryan, a former Air Force psychologist, was a member of the suicide prevention independent review committee convened by the Pentagon in 2022.

That committee found that “training demands and requirements … [are] primary sources of stress, burnout and demoralization.” Other common stressors include shoddy computers, byzantine promotion policies, unsupportive leaders and poor housing.

Army tank brigades have flirted with or broken the dwell threshold in recent years.

The 3rd Infantry Division’s 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team returned from a nine-month South Korea rotation in August 2021. But the Raider Brigade rapidly deployed to Europe six months later in February 2022, when Russia expanded its invasion of Ukraine. The brigade’s families were furious about the move, detailing the hardships they faced during a March 2022 town hall with the Army’s then-top noncommissioned officer at Fort Stewart, Georgia.

This month, the Fort Carson, Colorado-based 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team of the 4th Infantry Division, deploys to Europe approximately 16 months after returning from an eight-month Poland mission in December 2022.

Former officials argue that the sustained operational tempo has harmed units as well.

Retired Gen. Robert “Abe” Abrams, who led Army Forces Command before retiring in 2021, previously told Military Times that the Army’s armor units struggle with a 1:2 deployment-to-dwell ratio at current resourcing levels and “cannot sustain that tempo indefinitely.”

“That’s what’s crushing them,” he said.

Other communities, such as air defense, have faced high deployment rates as well.

The Navy has also dealt with a bruising tempo in recent years, with an ever-increasing assortment of missions. The COVID pandemic only exacerbated that pace, as pre-cruise quarantines and zero port calls became the order of the day.

The aircraft carrier Nimitz and its strike group spent an historic 11 months at sea from April 2020 through February 2021.

Precisely 22 months later, a perfect 1:2 dwell ratio, they were back on deployment. Policy dictates they would have needed a waiver to deploy again that quickly.

Meghann Myers is the Pentagon bureau chief at Military Times. She covers operations, policy, personnel, leadership and other issues affecting service members.

Davis Winkie covers the Army for Military Times. He studied history at Vanderbilt and UNC-Chapel Hill, and served five years in the Army Guard. His investigations earned the Society of Professional Journalists’ 2023 Sunshine Award and consecutive Military Reporters and Editors honors, among others. Davis was also a 2022 Livingston Awards finalist.

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