By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
KIRTLAND AIR FORCE BASE, N.M., Oct. 5, 2006 – Tour lengths are the biggest obstacle to U.S. troop morale in Iraq, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said during a visit here yesterday.
Marine Gen. Peter Pace said that when he visits combat zones, morale generally is high. But after a bit of digging, he said, he finds the different tour length policies among the services work against morale.
“Specifically, if you sit around a table in a dining facility with servicemembers from all four services, they all have different tour lengths,” he said. The Army has a tour length of one year. Marines are in the country for seven months.
Navy and Air Force tours are four or six months. “The question that gets asked is how can you possibly have so many different tour lengths?” he said.
The services examine tour lengths constantly. The Marines – with their tether to Navy ship deployments – find seven months on and seven months at home station works. The Army has a one-year-on, one-year-home cycle that it would like to change to one year deployed three years home.
The Navy and Air Force also have good reasons for their tour lengths, the chairman acknowledged, but he said the differences don’t always sit well with people affected.
“It may compute math-wise, but it doesn’t compute in peoples’ minds and hearts,” he said. “That’s the biggest morale factor that I’m aware of when I travel.”
He said the Joint Chiefs of Staff continue to scrub the problem and challenge their assumptions. “Just because an assumption is true today, doesn’t mean it will be so tomorrow,” he said.
In response to a question from the largely Air Force audience, Pace addresses the reduction in force now under way in that service.
He said from his standpoint, the military is not reducing. The Army and Marine Corps are growing. “The Air Force and Navy have determined they can get smaller and still get the job done,” he said. The military of the future needs more special operations people, and the Air Force is looking to expand that community, he said.
But a technological shift in the service leads to a smaller force, he said. “If you go back to World War II, it took 3,000 planes to hit one bridge,” he said.
During Desert Storm, he said, that number dropped to 10 aircraft. “Today, one plane can hit 30, 40 or 50 bridges in one mission,” he said. “Somewhere in that math, you have to believe that you can do the mission for the nation with fewer planes. And that means fewer maintenance personnel, armorers and so on to keep those planes flying.”
He said he is comfortable in a change in size in the Air Force “that tells me I actually hit more targets from the air with fewer planes five years from now than I could with more aircraft five years ago.”
Pace said he will continue to ask and prod Air Force officials to understand the situation.