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ON POINT II: Transition to the New Campaign

The United States Army in Operation IRAQI FREEDOM May 2003-January 2005

Part IV

Sustaining the Campaign

Chapter 13
Taking Care of Soldiers


Leave and Redeployment Policy

While living on most FOBs afforded Soldiers the opportunity to release the tension caused by day-to-day operations in relative safety, yearlong tours put great strain on Soldier endurance and family support. At the urging of CJTF-7 and CENTCOM, the Army mandated yearlong tours in July 2003 for reasons of practicality, but primarily because it was felt that the character of the full spectrum campaign required extended time in theater for Soldiers to understand the complex environment and make connections with their Iraqi counterparts and Iraqi citizens. This was in contrast to the 6-month rotations common in the Balkans after 1995 and in Afghanistan prior to the fall of 2003. On 25 September 2003 CENTCOM established a rest and recuperation (R&R) leave program for Service members serving in Iraq for 12 months.96 Soldiers were flown to Europe or the United States for up to 15 days of annual leave. Every Soldier serving in OIF for a year was authorized the leave, and units developed plans to maintain unit operational tempo while simultaneously rotating Soldiers home for leave. Initially the program accommodated about 270 Soldiers daily, but by December 2003 that number had increased to roughly 480 per day. It was to be the military’s largest leave program since the Vietnam war.97

Although the vast majority of Soldiers reported no significant or long-lasting readjustment problems, some Soldiers experienced a range of difficulties. The connection between military deployments and effects on marriage has been studied for years and has proven difficult to analyze because of the many factors involved and the wide range of personal and family relationships. Multiple deployments, especially those occurring back-to-back, predictably evoked even greater family stress levels. As one Army spouse whose husband deployed to Iraq with the 3d Armored Cavalry Regiment (3d ACR) from April 2003 to April 2004 explained, “Families are dealing with a great deal of stress and uncertainty and many children are bearing the brunt of this situation. Multiple deployments can be greatly disruptive to the normal family routine.”98 During the early stages of OIF, the institutional Army and unit support groups worked to help families adapt to the numerous complex issues that attend a deployment. The Army also created various types of screening and voluntary and mandatory programs for returning Soldiers to identify and ameliorate adjustment problems. The same spouse stated, “The Army has done a superb job of determining what challenges the families face and addressing those specific challenges by employing its various support agencies.”99 The services available to returning Soldiers and their families were invaluable in helping ease the transition from war zone to home.

Family Readiness Groups (FRGs) were another important source of support for families and Soldiers during OIF. FRGs evolved out of informal support groups common throughout the Army since its very earliest days. Commanders and noncommissioned officers’ wives, supported by the unit chain of command, on an informal basis traditionally provided all kinds of assistance to families during deployments and war. By the 1990s FRGs became required programs in deployable units; some positions were filled with full-time workers, and spouse volunteers received formal training on their roles. The FRG’s primary mission was to provide mutual support, offer official and accurate command information to its members, and generally reduce the stress caused by deployments.100 Throughout the OIF rotations, the FRG network strove to support families of deployed Soldiers. The FRGs and the military pooled resources and provided families with the specific services they needed. This enabled Service members to concentrate fully on discharging duties in Iraq by relieving them from troubling preoccupations about family matters.101 The FRG served as the primary medium for distributing information to deployed Soldiers’ families. According to Dianna Emmou, the wife of Sergeant First Class Frank Emmou who deployed to Iraq with the 3d ACR, “The FRG provides information to family members regarding Soldiers, casualties, the unit, the area in which the unit was serving, recognition of media coverage for the unit, special events being held at home, meetings, and other related information.”102

The FRG was not the only program available to families looking for support during deployments. Many Soldiers and family members relied on the Army Community Service (ACS) that provided a variety of programs from employment to parenting to family advocacy. Also available was the recently developed Military One Source, a service staffed by social workers that answered “everything, anywhere, anytime, 24/7, every day of the year.”103 The Army also initiated a Building Strong and Ready Families Program during weekend retreats to help couples develop better intrafamily communications skills during deployments. Similarly, the Strong Bonds Marriage Education Program focused specifically on issues affecting Reserve and National Guard couples.104

Some mobilized National Guard and Reserve Soldiers encountered unique challenges in these areas. Many Reserve Component units tended not to have active FRGs or other related programs that were extensively available to their Active Duty counterparts. Unlike Active Duty and National Guard Soldiers, Reservists often mobilized for deployment to Iraq as individuals and were attached to Active or Reserve units with which they had no peacetime connection. Such deployments made it more challenging for individually mobilized Soldiers and their families to take advantage of all the benefits available to them when they were placed on Active Duty. The experiences of Lieutenant Colonel Phil Andrews, a Reservist who served as the Information Operations Officer, Multi-National Corps–Iraq (MNC-I), explained the challenges this created: “My family had no contact with my deployed unit’s FRG. I was deployed to augment the Civil Affairs rotation to OIF after they had been in Iraq for several months. The Civil Affairs unit was based in New York and my family lives in Kansas City.”105 Army National Guard (ARNG) units tended to deploy as units, though this was not universally true, and thus existing family and local support systems tended to be more effective. The ARNG and US Army Reserve (USAR) have moved rapidly to develop new solutions to support individual Soldiers and their families in this situation. Andrews believed that the Military One Source program was a step in the right direction.106 Conversely, some Guard and Reserve units were drawn from local areas in which their social, work, and Army ties were quite strong, providing a natural support system as strong as any Active Duty unit.

Chapter 13. Taking Care of Soldiers

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