Murray Speaks Out to Give Troops More Time at Home

Sep 19 2007

As co-sponsor of bi-partisan amendment to provide service members with as much time at home as they spend on duty, Murray urges Senate passage

Watch Murray's Speech

(Washington, D.C.) – Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) spoke on the Senate floor in favor of a bi-partisan amendment to the Department of Defense (DoD) Authorization bill that would provide service members with more time at home with their families. The amendment would also increase our military readiness, and our ability to respond to disasters at home. The amendment was offered by Senators Jim Webb (D-VA) and Chuck Hagel (R-NE).

"We hear lots of rhetoric on this floor about supporting our troops – but I believe that this amendment is an opportunity to end the rhetoric and start with action," Murray said in her speech. "Troops should be at home for the same amount of time as they are deployed.  This seems like basic, common sense requirement."

"We have to institute a fair policy for the health of our troops, for the health and well-being of their families, and for our nation's security and ability to respond to disasters here at home."

The amendment mandates minimum dwell time for both active duty and Reserve service members. The amendment states that if a unit or a member of a regular component of the Armed Forces deploys to Iraq or Afghanistan, when their deployment ends they will have at least the same time at home as they spent on duty before they are redeployed.  The amendment also specifies that no unit or member of a Reserve component, including the National Guard, could be redeployed to Iraq or Afghanistan within three years of their previous deployment. The amendment includes a provision that allows the President to waive these requirements if the deployment is necessary to meet an emergency. 

More information on the amendment

Senator Murray's full remarks follow:

Mr. President, more than four years into the war in Iraq, our troops are stretched thin, our equipment is deteriorating, and the patience of our nation is wearing out.  We have seen 3,700 service members die.  Thousands upon thousands more have been injured.  And month after month, our fighting men and women are pushing harder and harder.  Troops leave loved ones for months and years, and put their lives on the line without complaint. 

We owe them the best treatment and training possible.  Unfortunately, the Bush Administration has fallen short in these areas.

Mr. President, our country is home to some of the finest fighting forces in the world, and we can all be proud of that.  We need our military to remain the best trained, best equipped, and most prepared force in the world. 

Tragically, however, the President's War in Iraq and his use of extended deployments is undermining our military's readiness.  The current deployment schedule hampers our ability to respond to threats around the world.

  • It causes service members to leave military service early.
  • It weakens our ability to respond to disasters here at home.
  • It unfairly burdens family members, and intensifies the combat stress that our service members experience.

 We need to rebuild our military, and the first step is giving our fighting men and women the time they need here at home to prepare and train for their next mission.  Today I rise to address the readiness challenges that threaten our military's strength and ultimately our nation's security.

Mr. President, two months ago I came to this floor and spoke those very same words in my effort to support the Webb amendment – virtually the same measure we are now considering today.  Member after member did the same, pleading with our colleagues to join us in this most basic effort to truly support the troops. 

Unfortunately, even though 56 senators voted in favor of the measure, it was blocked by Republican senators. 

Since then, more of our troops have died.  More have been wounded.  And more have been subjected to 15 month deployments without hope for the same amount of time at home. 

Meanwhile, the Administration has told us that 15 month deployments will continue and they have maintained their plan to keep 130,000 troops in Iraq. 

Well, today we have another chance.  Another chance to support our troops, to support their families, and to return some common sense to our troop rotations.  We need 3 more courageous Republican senators to join us.  I hope that they will. 

Burning Out Forces

Sadly, Mr. President, our forces are being burned out.  Many of our troops are on their third or even fourth tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Months ago, the Department of Defense announced that tours would be extended from 12 to 15 months.  And on top of all that, they are not receiving the necessary time at home before they are sent back to battle.

Mr. President, that is not the normal schedule.  It is not what our troops signed up for.  And we here in Congress should not simply stand by and allow our troops to be pushed beyond their limits like this. 

Typical Rotation Schedule

Mr. President, traditionally active duty troops are deployed for one year and then rest at home for two years.  National Guard and Reserve troops are deployed for one year and then rest at home for five years.

But that is certainly not the case now.  Currently, active duty troops are spending less time at home than they are in battle.  And Guard and Reserve forces are receiving less than three years rest for every year in combat.

With the increasing number and length of deployments, this rest time is even more critical for our troops.  Unfortunately, our forces are not receiving the break they need, increasing the chance they'll become burnt out.

But this Administration has decided to go the other direction – pushing our troops harder, extending their time abroad, and sending troops back time and again to the battlefield.

Responding to Other Global Threats

The current rotation policy not only burns-out service-members, but it hurts the military's ability to respond to other potential threats.

For the first time in decades, the Army's "ready brigade," that is intended to enter trouble spots within 72 hours, cannot do so.  All of its troops are in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The limited period between deployments also lessens the time to train for other threats.  Numerous military leaders have spoken to us about this problem.

General James Conway said "…I think my largest concern, probably, has to do with training.  When we're home for that seven, eight, nine months, our focus is going back to Iraq.  And as I mentioned in the opening statement, therefore, we're not doing amphibious training, we're not doing mountain-warfare training, we're not doing combined-arm fire maneuver, such as would need to be the case, potentially, in another type of contingency."  [General Conway, Senate Armed Services Committee, 2/15/07]

That's not me, Mr. President. That is General James Conway before the Senate Armed Services Committee in February of this year.

And General Barry McCaffrey said that because all "fully combat ready" active duty and reserve combat units are now deployed in Iraq or Afghanistan, "no fully-trained national strategic reserve brigades are now prepared to deploy to new combat operations."  [General McCaffrey, Senate Committee on Armed Services, 4/17/07]

Responding to Disasters Here at Home

Third, the deployment schedule is making us less secure here at home.  The current rotation policy has left Guard units short of man-power and supplies, and severely hindered their ability to respond to disasters here at home.

For years, these problems were the exception, not the rule.  But I fear that balance is shifting.  Recently, USA Today reported that National Guard units in 31 states say four years of war in Iraq and Afghanistan have left them with 60% or less of their authorized equipment.  And last month, Lt. General H. Steven Blum said National Guard units have 53 percent of the equipment they need to handle state emergencies, and that number falls to 49 percent once Guard equipment needed for war such as weapons is factored in.  In fact, Blum said, and I quote, "Our problem right now is that our equipment is at an all-time low." 

Mr. President, this is deeply concerning to all of us who worry about a national disaster in our states – in the West where we face forest fires, along the Gulf Coast where we have already seen the destruction of hurricanes this season, and in the Midwest where entire downs can be decimated by tornadoes in minutes.


But Mr. President, this problem is about more than equipment. It's about more than retention rates.  It is about real people and about real families.  We all know that military life can be tough on troops and their families.  They go months and sometimes years without seeing each other. Our troops need adequate time at home to see their newborns, to be a part of their children's lives, to spend time with their husbands or wives, and to see their parents.

The current rotation policy decreases the time families are together, placing a great strain on everyone.  Our troops, facing these early deployments and extended tours, have spoken out.  When the tour extensions and early deployments were announced, our troops themselves expressed their displeasure. 

In Georgia, according to the Atlanta Journal Constitution: "Soldiers of a Georgia Army National Guard unit were hoping to return home in April but instead, they may be spending another grueling summer in the Iraqi desert.  At least 4,000 National Guard soldiers may spend up to four extra months in Iraq as part of President Bush's troop increase announced last month." "Sgt. Gary Heffner, a spokesman for the 214th, said news of the extension came as a ‘little bit of a shock’ to the Georgians.”  [Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 2/7/07]

In the 1ST Cavalry Division, according to the Dallas Morning News: "Eighteen months after their first Iraq rotation, the 2nd Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment and the last of the Fort Hood, Texas-based 1st Cavalry Division returned to Iraq in mid-November."

And, Mr. President, these are the words of Brandon Jones, a veteran from my home state of Washington who testified before my field hearing on mental health care in Tacoma in August:

“In November 2003, I was called to full time duty with the 81st Brigade.  I was given a very short notice that my unit was being mobilized.  In that time I had to give up my civilian job - an income loss of about $1,200 a month- and my wife had to drop out of classes at Olympic College to care for our children.

“I went from living at home and seeing my children on a daily basis to living on base - just one mile from home - and visiting my children periodically. To my kids, I went from being their dad to the guy who drops by the house for a visit once in a while.

“The three months of mobilization before my deployment were very stressful.  We struggled financially.  Although we reached out for help, we were told that the only financial resources available were strictly for active duty soldiers at Fort Lewis.  It wasn't until we were threatened with eviction and repossession of our car that my wife was able to obtain a small amount of assistance generally reserved for Active Duty Soldiers. Our families helped us make up the rest. About 60 percent of what we were in need of.

“The stress made it difficult for my wife to keep a positive attitude, for our children to feel comfortable and for me to concentrate on the mission ahead of me.  When my wife and I reached out for marriage counseling prior to my deployment, we were made to feel that the few sessions we were given were a favor to us and that we were taking up a resource meant for active duty Soldiers from the base.

“Let me remind you that all of this happened before I was even deployed.”

Mr. President, as Brandon said – that was before he was even deployed.  Just imagine what a family goes through during those 15 month deployments.

Webb Amendment

So Mr. President, it is clear that we need to pass the Webb Amendment.  We hear lots of rhetoric on this floor about supporting our troops – but I believe that this amendment is an opportunity to end the rhetoric and start with action. 

Troops should be at home for the same amount of time as they are deployed.  This seems like basic, common sense requirement.  I applaud our colleague from Virginia for being a champion for our troops, and for crafting this bi-partisan measure that he, and the entire Senate, can be proud of. 

Our troops have sacrificed so much.  They have already gone above and beyond the call of duty.

We have to institute a fair policy for the health of our troops, for the health and well-being of their families, and for our nation's security and ability to respond to disasters here at home. This amendment does all these things, and I urge the Senate to support it.