Officers to see more transfers in Army plan

Rules set aside policies designed to help families

`Significantly shorter' notice

Changes meant to bolster force in Iraq, Afghanistan

December 08, 2004|By Tom Bowman | Tom Bowman,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - In an effort to restructure the Army and support operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, Army leaders will transfer officers more frequently and with less notice, setting aside policies designed to stabilize families.

Since at least the mid-1980s, Army officers have been allowed to remain at duty stations for two to three years before they were reassigned. Now the Army is saying that officers with as little as a year at a post can be moved to a new assignment.

And while officers were traditionally given six months' notice before their new assignments, Army officials are telling officers to expect "significantly shorter" notice of a new assignment, about 45 to 90 days. Moreover, summertime moves that allowed officers' families to settle before a new school year will no longer be the norm. Now the Army says reassignments can take place at any time.

The Army's new personnel policies are being put in place as the Pentagon boosts the total number of American troops in Iraq to 150,000, the highest number deployed since the war began in March last year.

Asked whether U.S. troops would be out of Iraq by the end of President Bush's second term, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said Monday he "would expect" and "hope" they would, but refused to make a prediction. Troop withdrawals, he said, hinged on progress of Iraq's government. Previous hopes for reducing the U.S. military presence in Iraq have been repeatedly dashed over the past year in the face of a growing insurgency.

About 2,100 active-duty Army officers have been affected by the policies in a reassignment cycle that began in September and will continue into January, said Lt. Col. Kevin Arata, a spokesman for the Human Resources Command.

During the first week of January, another Army reassignment cycle will be announced for February through May, although Arata expected fewer officers to be affected than in the current round. The new policies, which are expected to continue for up to 18 months, could affect about 51,000 active-duty Army officers ranging from lieutenants to colonels, officials said.

"What will that do for the families? There will be a little bit of turbulence," Arata said. Despite the changes, he said, "the professionalism of the soldier takes over."

Some current and former officers fear that scrapping the policies is further evidence the Army is too small for its missions. While the active-duty Army is meeting its recruiting and retention goals, the new policies could jeopardize that success, they say. One Army officer in the Pentagon said several lieutenant colonels in his office put in their retirement papers when told of the new personnel policies.

"If it has a big impact on families, the ability to recruit and retain soldiers will be more difficult," said retired Gen. Edward "Shy" Meyer, who was Army chief of staff in the late 1970s, when a lack of money and personnel led to what he termed a "hollow Army."

"You need to know your family has stability," Meyer said. "The other need is to spend time with your family."

Rick Sinnreich, a retired Army colonel who participates in Pentagon war games and training, said personnel burdens of the war on terrorism are forcing leaders to make tough decisions. "In a war, a lot of desirable things go to the wall," he said. "They're turning themselves inside out for people."

The new policies, dubbed Dynamic Distribution System, follow the Army's announcement last week that it will extend duty for thousands of soldiers in Iraq by two months, meaning they will stay for a total of 14 months.

At the same time, the Army has begun notifying some 500 staff officers that they will spend twice as much time in Iraq and Afghanistan - 12 months instead of six months. That will be achieved by pulling some officers out of professional schools and shelving some family-oriented programs, such as allowing soldiers to remain in an assignment for an additional year to allow a child to complete high school, according to a memo obtained by The Sun.

Arata and other Army officials said the personnel moves are necessary as the Army revamps its force and makes sure all units have officers with the right skills and experience. Also, the continuing demands to deploy Army units to both Iraq and Afghanistan are requiring more officers to fill the gaps.

"We are in an unprecedented time of demand for troops in support of ongoing operations in [Afghanistan and Iraq]," said a recent memo from the Army personnel Web site, which includes a quote from Yogi Berra, "The future ain't what it used to be." The Army's new personnel policies "allow us to be more flexible during this time of war and transformation," another memo said.

That memo said Gen. Peter J. Schoomaker, the Army's chief of staff, has likened his efforts to revamp the Army while it's fighting a war to tuning a car while it's moving down the road.

The Army's top general has embarked on an effort to create a new personnel system that will allow units to remain together for about three years, rather than the current policy of allowing people to rotate out. "The chief is wise for trying to keep unit cohesion, but you lose individual personal flexibility," Sinnreich said.

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