WASHINGTON -- The U.S. Army, facing unprecedented turmoil in its ranks as a result of Operation Desert Shield, has proposed a halt in the departure of soldiers who have fulfilled their terms of service or chosen to retire, Pentagon officials said yesterday.
The recommendation, which the Army is to present today to Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney for approval, is intended to shore up Army forces at a time when 40 percent of the troops are either in the Middle East or bound for the region.
The move comes less than two weeks after the Pentagon announced that it would dispatch as many as 200,000 additional troops to the Persian Gulf, where 240,000 already are in place.
If approved as expected, the Army proposal would extend the tours of duty of roughly 3,500 officers and recruits per month.
In a move that could affect several thousand more soldiers, the Army proposed to call off its traditional two-week holiday break in training at the end of December and to freeze the transfer of soldiers from overseas assignments to bases in the United States.
The measures are the most dramatic indication to date of the difficulty the Army is having managing a massive deployment of troops at the same time that it had planned a major reduction in the size of the force. "This would allow us to sustain the force properly in Saudi Arabia and to stabilize everywhere else, where turmoil has been significant," said one Pentagon official.
The apparently conflicting objectives have prompted Army and Pentagon officials to rethink plans to shrink U.S. military rolls by 25 percent over the next five years.
Among those who manage the military services' manpower policies, the turmoil resulting from Operation Desert Shield is causing concern that potential new recruits will shy away from military service and that those already in the service will leave in droves once they are free to go.
The package to be presented to Mr. Cheney would extend a policy called "stop-loss," under which the Army already has held more than 5,600 soldiers in the service against their wishes. To date, that policy has affected only soldiers in or bound for Saudi Arabia and others whose military jobs could be crucial to the deployment.
The latest proposal, which would take effect Dec. 1, would extend the tours of virtually all of the Army's 732,403 officers and recruits.
It is certain to disrupt the plans of thousands of military personnel who, fearing layoffs by the military, had planned to leave the service and find jobs in the civilian economy.