Army’s New Assignment Policy
The Army announced yesterday that it will discourage the type of nomadic career that has characterized Army life for generations and will instead station soldiers at one base for much of their service, an effort to improve combat readiness and make life easier on troops and their families.
The new policy calls for troops to remain at their first post for six to seven years — twice as long as the current average — and envisions bringing them back to the home base later in their career as well.
Army officials said the goal is to make units more cohesive by keeping them together longer, and to help soldiers specialize in ways that enhance their effectiveness. That is a departure for an Army that has moved soldiers around frequently to give them the broadest set of experiences and training possible.
The change is also meant to make military life more attractive to families by letting them set deeper roots in their communities, buy homes and keep children in the same school longer. The fast pace of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan and their danger have caused concern that the Army could start losing troops in large numbers as spouses balk at the strain of repeated deployments there or elsewhere.
The personnel changes, along with other aspects of a broad reorganization, amount to some of the biggest revisions yet for the three-decade-old all-volunteer Army.
The Army has talked about some variation of this theme for years now without anything coming of it. The return to the regimental system in the late 1980s was supposed to have soldiers rotate their careers between one home base and overseas assignments.
The policy’s authors seem to have anticipated the most obvious problems:
The personnel changes will begin in September, but it will take several years for them to take full effect. Initially, at least, they won’t apply to the 27,000 U.S. troops in South Korea, where one-year tours are the norm, or the 70,000 in Europe, where the three-year tour will remain the standard.
The new policy may hold implications for the next big round of base closings. The homesteading idea appears to be a strong vote for big, multifunction bases such as Fort Hood, Tex., and Fort Bragg, N.C. Those bases house several units and also have training centers, unlike scores of smaller outposts that host only one training unit.
For example, at a big base, a soldier could serve in one division, then become a drill sergeant at one of its training centers, and then move back to his original division, or to another one at that base — all while keeping his family in one place.
In some ways, the policy change also is a belated recognition that the Army’s demographics have changed since the end of the draft. In 1973, only one-quarter of soldiers were married. Now the proportion is double that. In recent years, military spouses have complained that it is difficult to start and sustain a career while moving every few years.
My guess is that the Army’s longstanding goal of shutting down smaller bases, established during WWII for training and support units, to consolidate the force into large maneuver bases is as much behind this as concern for family life.