The Survival Of Unit Deployment
SUBJECT AREA - Manpower
Title: The Survival of Unit Deployment
Author: Major Michael T. Edwards, United States Marine Corps
Thesis: The Unit Deployment Program (UDP) must continue in order to
provide the most combat ready and cost effective source of manpower for
Background: Currently, the combination of, 1-year unaccompanied tours,
3-year accompanied tours, and the UDP sustain manpower in WestPac. The UDP
began in 1977 to reduce personnel turbulence and increase combat readiness
of WestPac units. Eventually every combat unit in WestPac entered the
program. These units deploy every 18 months from CONUS to WestPac for a
6-month period. Since its implementation, the UDP has strengthened unit
cohesion, enhanced continuity of training, and increased the manning levels
for all combat units in the Marine Corps. Additionally, family turbulence
has decreased, retention has climbed, and the Marine Corps has saved
millions of dollars annually. The continuation of the UDP is in jeopardy
because of a reduced force structure and an increase in operational tempo.
A return to individual assignment policy for combat units, weather it is
1-year or 3-year tours, is counterproductive. Individual assignments do
not adhere to National Military Strategy or recognize the realities of
Recommendation: The UDP is cost effective and a proven combat multiplier.
It must remain an integral part of the three-tiered system for manning
combat units in WestPac.
Thesis: The Unit Deployment Program (UDP) must continue in order to
provide the most combat ready and cost effective source of manpower for
I. The beginning of the UDP
A. Success of the UDP
II. Drawbacks to all-ATWP option
2. Cost of living
3. Civilian jobs
4. Medical care
B. Restrictive training areas
3. C-1 training status
C. ATWP assignment goals
D. ATWP costs
1. Cost analyses
2. Congressional concern
E. Personnel turbulence
III. The threat and military strategy
A. Individual assignment policies
B. Expeditionary Marine Corps
C. UDP under combat conditions
D. Force structure reductions in WestPac
IV. Adjusting current method of sustainment
A. Higher operational tempo
B. Full implementation of ATWP
C. Conversion of billets to ATWP
1. Reserve participation
2. Total Force concept
The end of the Cold War and the downfall of the Soviet Union have
brought about monumental changes throughout the world. These changes are
not finite but continue, like an unchecked chain reaction, affecting
everyone to some degree. Our military forces are undergoing the most
visible and extensive metamorphosis of any U.S. institution. Although
force structure reductions, base closures, and loss of civilian jobs
dominate the news, this paper will focus on a manpower issue that will
determine how the Marine Corps, given a reduced structure and a National
Military Strategy (NMS) based on uncertainty, will forward base forces in
the future. Notwithstanding CINCLANT's experimentation with the adaptive
force planning concept (the piecemeal deployment of Marines as Special
Purpose MAGTFs aboard carriers or on a single amphibious platform, not part
of an ARG) the current deployed MEU (SOC) program remains viable and even
desirable as the likely force of choice when dealing with most Third World
regional problems. The forward basing of Marine Corps units in WestPac is
coming under the greatest scrutiny and subject to possible change. The
Unit Deployment Program (UDP) must continue in order to provide the most
combat ready and cost effective source of manpower for WestPac units.
Prior to 1977, all Marine Corps personnel assigned to WestPac served
1-year unaccompanied tours. This created an unacceptably high personnel
turnover rate throughout the Marine Corps. A majority of U.S.-based units
experienced up to a 15 percent turnover rate per quarter trying to provide
WestPac units sufficient personnel; moreover, WestPac units experienced an
annual turnover rate of nearly 100 percent. This caused a lack of unit
cohesion, lowered morale, and degraded combat readiness throughout the
Marine Corps. The UDP and the Accompanied Tours WestPac Program (ATWP)
replaced many of the 1-year tours to help resolve this situation.
The UDP, a well-documented success, currently provides the ground and
aviation combat units to WestPac. The dramatic improvement in unit
cohesion and Marine Corps wide manning that the UDP provides over
individually based assignment policy has greatly enhanced the main goal of
the UDP, combat readiness. (6:3) Additionally, the program is more cost
effective than any other method of manpower sustainment. (2:2,3:2) Unit
deployment has allowed units to remain in the U.S. for 18 months between
6-month deployments to WestPac but that rotation requires a base of four
like units. However, force structure reductions have reduced the rotation
base to three for many UDP units, resulting in only 12 months between
deployments to WestPac. Recent conflicts, like Desert Storm in Southwest
Asia and Operation Restore Hope in Somalia, disrupted the UDP rotation
cycle causing a temporary suspension of all or part of the program.
The main goal of the ATWP is to provide continuity within the support
units and command elements in WestPac by assigning key personnel to 3-year
accompanied tours. Not only does the ATWP cost less than 1-year tours, it
also increases family stability. Unfortunately, the ATWP has met with only
moderate success. Although assigning the total number of personnel needed
for the program appears possible, getting the right person in the right
billet does not. The total number of ATWP assignments was only 6 percent
below the 1992 goal, but failed to provide the right Marine in over 40
percent of the designated key billets. (4) The ATWP is a voluntary
program, and WestPac is simply not the most popular duty location. The
ATWP is currently scheduled for full implementation in 1994 with a total of
3,700 Marines assigned to WestPac.
The combination of the 1-year tours, the UDP, and the ATWP has proven
to be an effective method of providing manpower to WestPac, accounting for
more than 12 percent of all Marine Corps billets. (5:8) Despite the
success of this three-tiered system, Headquarters Marine Corps is currently
considering an initiative to convert all assignments in WestPac to the
ATWP. The intent is to treat an assignment to WestPac essentially no
differently than an assignment to Hawaii. Supporters of the all-ATWP
solution commonly cite the reduced rotation base for unit deployment and
the temporary suspension of part or all of the UDP during Operations Desert
Shield/Storm and Restore Hope to promote the all-ATWP option.
Advocates of the all-ATWP initiative have not fully considered the
overwhelming disadvantages of that plan. The all-ATWP option has five
1. The infrastructure cannot support additional personnel.
2. Training areas are very restrictive.
3. Headquarters Marine Corps cannot fill current ATWP goals.
4. ATWP cost is significantly higher than that of the UDP.
5. An increase in personnel turbulence will degrade combat readiness.
The evidence belies the assertion made by the leadership in WestPac
that the infrastructure, particularly on Okinawa, can support an all-ATWP
option. Approximately 51 percent of the Marine Corps is married and that
translates into an additional 10,000 dependents arriving in WestPac if the
all ATWP option is implemented. (7:5) Claims that the Japanese Government
will build adequate housing ignores the fact that even now, despite not
meeting current ATWP goals, the waiting time for family housing approaches
an average of 6 months. Off-base housing in WestPac and Hawaii is
expensive but unlike in Okinawa the housing in Hawaii is adequate. Like
Hawaii, WestPac's cost of living is extremely high, but unlike Hawaii,
junior Marines in WestPac are not experiencing major personal financial
hardships. In 1990 the Commanding General of FMFPac went as far as to
request a ban against married sergeants and below from being assigned to
Hawaii. Additionally, civilian jobs are severely limited in WestPac and
statistics show that 45 percent of military spouses work. The chance of a
dependent child acquiring a job is virtually nonexistent. Medical care for
active duty personnel is already slow, characterized by 6-month waiting
periods for orthopedic consultations. The influx of dependents can only
exacerbate the limited medical capability that now exists in WestPac and
CHAMPUS medical coverage is extremely limited. The Navy has no plans to
expand the current medical facilities in WestPac and it is not in a
position to support an initiative that would require any expansion. (4)
The FMFPAC staff has identified several concerns surrounding the
deteriorating training environment in WestPac. The closure of Philippine
ranges and rigid restrictions on dropping and firing ordnance elsewhere
severely restrict aviation-specific training. Okinawan land agreements
continue to shrink available training areas and that, coupled with
increased restrictions on live firing and military movement, makes it
imperative to conduct more off-island deployments to maintain combat
efficiency. However, the cost of transporting equipment and personnel for
that training is rapidly becoming prohibitive. Although UDP units arrive
in WestPac MCCRES tested and fully trained, maintaining a C-1 in training
readiness while deployed is becoming more difficult. (7:4-5) The permanent
assignment of combat units, based on individual replacement policy to
WestPac, will only aggravate this difficulty.
Despite that, the last three Commanding Generals in WestPac considered
filling the key billets in the ATWP as essential but the program has met
with overall resistance from the beginning. The ATWP is a voluntary
program and has never achieved annual goals. Past efforts to direct
assignments to the ATWP have failed. Even the Commandant's initiative in
1988 to force assignments of colonels down through majors to the ATWP met
with such strong resistance that the initiative was quickly withdrawn.
Assignment policy states that those Marines refusing to execute ATWP orders
will receive orders to execute a 2-year unaccompanied tour or, in the case
of officers, be given the option of resignation. This policy has existed
for years but has never been enforced.
Exhaustive cost analyses prove that the UDP, regardless of the
measurement used, is far less expensive than any other method of providing
manpower to WestPac. Converting all tours in WestPac to the ATWP will cost
over 40 million dollars more annually than the current method of manning
those units and that figure does not include the additional 25 million
dollars that the UDP saves through a decrease of more than a 1,000
transient manyears per year. (6:3) Furthermore, the U.S. Congress
continues to express concerns about the cost of dependents overseas.
In 1990, the Secretary of Defense began taking steps toward reducing
such costs. The Marine Corps supported the Secretary's position in 1989 by
capping the ATWP program at 3,700 versus the original goal of over 4,000
tours. (1) In today's atmosphere of budget austerity and continuing budget
cuts, to think that any initiative, such as the all ATWP option, that would
significantly increase spending, can be acceptable is not realistic.
Personnel stability is the critical element in deciding the most
effective method for providing combat units to WestPac. The Marine Corps
leadership appears to agree that a return to 1-year unaccompanied tours is
regressive and unacceptable. The 3-year accompanied tour offered by the
ATWP provides greater unit cohesion than the 1-year tour but would still
result in a minimum quarterly personnel turnover average of around 10
percent. Based on assignment history and individual assignment policies,
that percentage will more than double during summer months. The loss of 10
percent of a units' manpower in combat is considered neutralization. The
definition of decimation is the loss of one tenth of a force. Chistopher
C. Straub in his book The Unit First agrees that concern over the slightest
bit of personnel turbulence is not being too melodramatic:
Individual rotation systems diminish a unit's effectiveness whenever a
key individual leaves (and in a good unit everyone is key), but they
also damage cohesion before anyone leaves. As soon as the rotation
policy is announced, soldiers who are eager to get out of action (in
other words, virtually everyone) start defining themselves in terms of
the rotation criteria: how many medals or days each soldier is away
from rotation. Soldiers become that much more preoccupied with their
personal status, and less with the unit, and the unit becomes less
Congressional testimony given by the Marine Corps leadership since the
inception of the UDP is replete with praise about the personnel stability
provided by the UDP. This stability has strengthened unit cohesion,
enhanced continuity of training, and is directly responsible for maximizing
uniform readiness of tactical units throughout the Marine Corps.
The threat has changed. U.S. military strategy stresses general
uncertainty throughout the world accented by the probability of regional
conflicts, which will result in a Low Intensity Conflict (LIC) as the most
likely scenario for the future employment of U.S. forces. The Marine Corps
response to this new strategy stresses the expeditionary nature of its
forward deployed/based combat ready forces -- forces which are unit
deployed, not individually manned.
In the last three wars (WW II, Korea, Vietnam), we have had personnel
systems designed for political effectiveness. Because a perception of
fairness to individuals is key in the American context, individuals
are the system's building blocks. This is one reason why our system
can fairly be termed "individual-centered." But the primacy of the
individual is not solely based in concern for equity. The way we man
our forces reflects the society and culture of America, the country
more dedicated to individualism and more concerned about the fate of
the individual than any other. (8:33)
The personnel systems used during those three wars proved ineffective.
Personnel shortcomings were overcome by superior American firepower,
advanced technology, and industrial capacity. Potential adversaries can
now match, in some cases even exceed, those former sources of dominance.
(8:85) In terms of operational effectiveness the individual assignment
policies used during Vietnam have been termed a handicap. (8:32) The
Marine Corps must not return to an individual assignment system for forward
based combat units.
The UDP gives the operational forces an expeditionary posture, while
supporting the standardization and interoperability of the interchangeable
parts of a MAGTF. It also supports the MPS concept of deploying combat and
combat support units to pre-staged equipment, an unprecedented success
during Operations Desert Shield/Storm and Restore Hope. Marine Corps
tactics and concepts of employment continue to evolve in support of
national interests. In turn, manpower assignment policies must reflect
operational effectiveness over political effectiveness (equity to
individuals) in order to respond rapidly to crises with the most combat
ready force -- the essence of the expeditionary concept. The UDP passed
this test under combat conditions, demonstrating flexibility and
The temporary suspension of all or part of the UDP during regional
crises in Kuwait and Somalia showed that the UDP can successfully and
efficiently change from a peacetime deployment to a wartime employment with
no deterioration in combat readiness or efficiency. Units quickly returned
to a normal rotation cycle with no material difficulty. If projected force
structure reductions through 1997 take effect without a compensatory
structure reduction in WestPac, the continuation of the UDP will not be
possible. However, force structure reductions already made throughout the
Marine Corps have been proportionally applied to WestPac. The current
structure in WestPac conforms to a Marine Corps end-strength of 177,000.
If the Marine Corps reaches the planned end-strength of 159,100 by 1997, it
is reasonable to assume that a commensurate force structure reduction in
WestPac will also occur, allowing UDP to remain viable. The current method
for providing manpower to WestPac needs adjustments that must focus on
three areas: acceptance of higher operational tempo, enforcement of current
ATWP policy, and conversion of some combat units to either the ATWP or the
1-year unaccompanied tour.
The Marine Corps must first recognize that a higher operational tempo
is the future. Shrinking budgets and reduced force structure in a rapidly
changing world mean the Marine Corps cannot afford to hold on to the idea
of a 3:1 deployment cycle. No combat unit can any longer expect to spend 3
months in CONUS for every month on deployment. A 2:1 deployment ratio is
now the norm and not a signal that the system is failing. Restructuring
the incentive pay system to recognize deployed Marines, regardless of MOS,
and restricting privates through corporals as well as junior officers from
being married are two significant policy changes that would support a
higher operational tempo.
The ATWP is a support program, not a substitute for the UDP. Not all
units, particularly headquarters staffs, are organized for unit deployment;
however, in a support role, long term individual assignments can contribute
significantly to combat readiness. (8:112) Headquarters Marine Corps must
adopt a more aggressive approach to filling key billets, as designated by
FMFPAC. Enforcement of current policy, already outlined, requires the
direct involvement of the Commandant to enforce that policy. Neither the
ATWP or the UDP is fully effective unless they are completely implemented.
The ATWP enhances the attributes of the UDP and full implementation is long
overdue. Together, they provide an effective combat personnel assignment
program, responsive to the NMS.
Today, the Marine Corps has sufficient ground combat units available
to provide a 2:1 deployment ratio for all UDP units and those units
required for MEU (SOC) commitments. Aviation combat units can achieve that
same ratio except in the case of the EA-6 and the F/A-18D squadron in
WestPac. Unfortunately the only viable solution for those squadrons, at
this time, is to convert their billets to the ATWP or 1-year unaccompanied
tours. The Commanding General of III MEF will designate key billets that
will become part of the ATWP. However, a long term unit deployment
solution is possible.
The unit deployment of Marine Corps reserve forces to augment the UDP
is a radical alternative to increasing the ATWP or 1-year tour at all.
Implementation of such a policy will require Congressional action and is
likely to encounter significant political obstacles. The Marine Corps
reserve garnered much deserved acclaim for its participation in Operation
Desert Shield/Storm and the NMS stresses the increased importance of the
nation's reserve forces. As the active force continues to undergo
fundamental changes, the reserve forces cannot expect to return to the
status quo (1 weekend a month plus 2 weeks in the summer). The Total Force
concept, tossed around at Headquarters Marine Corps, must become reality
versus a catchy phrase in order to meet the military challenges ahead. The
deployment of a reserve unit every 2 years for a period of 3 months in
order to augment like units in the UDP supports the NMS and would further
strengthen combat readiness throughout the Total Force. The deployment of
reserve forces to Desert Shield/Storm was a political success. However, at
the user level, the actual effectiveness of those units is debatable.
Senior Marine Corps leaders, at the start of Desert Shield, expressed deep
reservations about the competency of reserve units to operate effectively
next to their active duty counterparts. Those reservations still exist and
will until the reserve force fundamentally changes its concepts of
training, deployment, and employment to support the current military
strategy. Although it will lead to an increase in their operational tempo,
the integration of reserve units into the UDP will increase their combat
readiness and reduce the operational tempo for active duty units.
The UDP must take precedence over individual assignments to WestPac.
Increasing commitments, such as the none traditional missions of
peacekeeping and peace-enforcing, compel the Marine Corps to move towards
stricter assignment policies even at the cost of a higher operational
tempo. Expeditionary combat readiness has never been more important and
unit deployment is a proven combat multiplier. The UDP has increased the
combat efficiency throughout the Marine Corps, and is unquestionably the
most cost efficient method of providing manpower to WestPac. The current
three-tiered system for providing manpower to WestPac can continue to
function efficiently with the number of ground and aviation combat units
available throughout the Marine Corps. Despite the impending requirement
to convert some billets in UDP to 1-year tours or to the ATWP, the UDP
will still account for more than 22 percent or more than 5,000 of the
nearly 22,000 Marines in WestPac. (5:8) The most UDP ever accounted for
was 28 percent. The UDP must continue in order to provide the most combat
ready and cost effective source of manpower for WestPac units. The
inclusion of reserve units into the UDP rotation base will eventually allow
all combat units in WestPac to participate in unit deployment and reduce
the operational tempo for the Total Force.
1. Accompanied tour WestPac Program (ATWP) - Family Housing Units.
Action Brief. Headquarters Marine Corps: MPP-56. 27 December 1989.
2. Accompanied Tours WestPac Program (ATWP); PCS vs UDP Cost on
Okinawa. Point Paper. Headquarters Marine Corps: MPP-56, 2 March 1989.
3. Force Study Group (FSG) PCS moves and costing for two and three
years tours with and without UDP. Memorandum. Headquarters Marine
Corps: MMOS, 5 September 1991.
4. Personal interview about ATWP with Manpower Action Officer.
Headquarters Marine Corps: January 1993.
5. Unit Deployment Program. Briefing. Headquarters Marine Corps:
6. Unit Deployment Program (UDP). Information Paper. Headquarters
Marine Corps: MPP-56. 1991.
7. Unit Deployment Program vs 3-year accompanied/2-year all others tours.
Information Paper. Headquarters Marine Corps: MPP-56. 1989.
8. Straub, Christopher C. The Unit First. Washington, DC: National
Defense University Press, 1988.
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