Extended Deployments Should Lessen Army Stress, Commander Says

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, April 24, 2007 - Extended overseas deployments affecting soldiers serving in Afghanistan and other locales overseen by U.S. Central Command should help to alleviate the stress on the Army, a senior U.S. officer in Afghanistan told Pentagon reporters today.

"I'm absolutely confident that that's going to work and that'll manage the pressure and the stress on the force," Army Col. Martin Schweitzer, commander of the 82nd Airborne Division's 4th Brigade Combat Team, said during a satellite-carried news conference.

All active U.S. Army units already operating within U.S. Central Command's area of responsibility, including Afghanistan, Iraq and the Horn of Africa, or en route there "will deploy for not more than 15 months and return home for not less than 12 months," Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates announced April 11 at a Pentagon news conference.

The change automatically increased the length of soldiers' overseas tours in those areas from 12 to 15 months.

A 22-year Army veteran, Schweitzer is on his second tour in Afghanistan, having previously served there in 2002. The colonel began his current tour of duty in Afghanistan in January.

The 4th Brigade Combat Team operates in Paktika, Paktia, Lowgar, Ghazni and Khost provinces in the southeastern part of Afghanistan, Schweitzer said, noting this is the brigade's first overseas deployment.

The 15-month deployments are needed to ensure that the Army retains the capacity to sustain the deployed force, Army Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, commander of Multinational Corps Iraq, said April 13 from Baghdad during a teleconference with Pentagon reporters.

The tour extensions will provide more predictability and stability for soldiers and their families, Odierno said, noting the policy "will ensure 12 months at home station between rotations."

Schweitzer acknowledged difficulty in measuring how the extended deployment affects individual soldiers under his command. However, he expressed strong support for the personnel decisions made by senior defense department and Army leaders.

The Pentagon's civilian and military leaders "put a lot of rigor and analytical analysis into this (tour extension) to determine what is best for the service and what is sustainable," Schweitzer said.

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