WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Oct 6, 2009) — As the White House debates sending as many as 40,000 more troops to Afghanistan, the Army’s top enlisted advisor said today that he is proud of the work Soldiers are doing everyday in both Afghanistan and Iraq, but the stress that Soldiers and their families incur from this effort is something that keeps him awake at night.

Speaking with senior enlisted leaders at the Association of the United States Army annual meeting Tuesday, Sgt. Maj. of the Army Kenneth O. Preston said currently the Army has 265,000 troops deployed to 80 countries around the world

Preston added that more Soldiers are actually deployed right now than at the height of the Iraq surge in 2007. He said currently Soldiers receive 12 months dwell time after a year deployed in combat. Ideally, he would like to see that time doubled or tripled, he said.

Preston said he and enlisted advisors from each of the services met in January with the commander-in-chief, President Obama, to discuss, among other topics, ways of increasing dwell time for Soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, and efforts to take stress off the force.

“I told the president that what I worry about right now is stress on the force, and I worry about it not only from perspective of the operational Army … operational forces that deploy for 12 or 15 months,” Preston explained. “It’s the Army institution, the generating force, the school house, drills sergeants, recruiters, instructors … but it’s also our families, our garrison, our systems.”

“From an operational Soldier perspective, if you’re deployed for 15 months, being away from your family that long is inherently stressful, and being deployed into a combat zone, doing combat operations is inherently stressful,” he added.

Preston also explained to the president that for Soldiers returning to home station the stress does not end. He said in most cases, 90 days back from deployment, Soldiers find themselves caught into the deployment training cycle of conducting weapons qualifications, warrior tasks, battle drills, and mission rehearsal exercises at one of the Army’s training centers in preparation for the next deployment.

“By the time you get through that whole process … you’re now cleaning up your vehicles, putting them on a boat, loading MILVANs (military vans), packing out equipment, and as a senior leader you’re struggling to find two weeks to give your Soldiers block leave before you’re gone again for another 12 or 15 months,” he said. “All of these things create stress on the force.”

Meanwhile for military families, Preston said the operation tempo has forced the Army to abandon moving military families during summer, a practiced that helped ease the transition for children registering for school.

“Now because of the pace and tempo that the Army is at, and by the way we are deploying units, we can’t afford to move everyone during the summer months, and that creates stress on the force,” he said. Another stress for families, he pointed out, is when schools will not accept education credits from other school systems.

Preston is actively campaigning for more states to take part in the Army’s education compact that is intended to help students who move from one military base to another. He said the education compact makes transferring school and vaccination records easier and creates a standard age for enrolling a child in school.

Command Sgt. Maj. Ralph Borja, a 30-year veteran, who has served in both Iraq and Afghanistan, and is now the senior enlisted advisor for the U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command – Army Forces Strategic Command, said he understands what Soldiers and their families who are dealing with a third and fourth deployment go through.

“The sergeant major of the Army brought up a good point because this is something leaders at the top need to look at closely and try to alleviate, we need to continue to focus on our families, bring our families back together” he said. “I personally believe the SMA and the Army leadership is focusing their attention on relieving stress on our Soldiers, but it’s going to take a combined team effort to do so. We need feedback from leaders currently deployed and those returning from deployment.”

Sgt. 1st Class Daniel Bailey, of the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, N.C. — who grew up in Burlington, Vt., and is on his fourth deployment to Iraq and Afghanistan, two of which lasted 15 months — said allowing more dwell time for soldiers returning from combat would help in the effort.

“They talk about dwell time being 12 months when you redeploy, but you end up spending half of that time in training up for the next deployments. You don’t really get family time you need; there needs to be time for some rest and relaxation between deployments.”

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