News Releases

IRAQ: Senator Murray Speaks in Favor of Strengthening Military Readiness

Jul 10 2007

Murray Supports Webb Amendment to Ensure Troops Have Sufficient Time between Deployments

(Washington, D.C.) – In a Senate floor speech today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray spoke about how the current rotation schedule is hurting our military's readiness, retention, disaster preparedness and military families.  Murray spoke in support of the Webb Amendment.

Senator Murray's remarks follow:

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 on the planet.  

Tragically, however, the President's War in Iraq and his use of extended deployments is undermining our military's readiness.  The current deployment schedule hurts 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, 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 thin.  We have seen 3,600 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.

One of the major problems for our troops, their families and their communities is the growing gap between the time troops spend in battle versus the time they spend at home.  This gap is alarming, it's disheartening, and it is a disservice to the brave men and women putting themselves in harms way each and every day.  

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.  That's why we're debating the Webb amendment now and why we must pass it this week. 

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 tragically that is 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 critical 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.  Just in March of this year, Salon.com reported what I hope is extreme example of the length the military is going to get soldiers back to the battlefield.  

I ask consent, Mr. President, that the entire story appear in the Record. I do want to read an excerpt form that story.

"Last November, Army Spc. Edgar Hernandez, a communications specialist with a unit of the Army's 3rd Infantry Division, had surgery on an ankle he had injured during physical training. After the surgery, doctors put his leg in a cast, and he was supposed to start physical therapy when that cast came off six weeks later.

But two days after his cast was removed, Army commanders decided it was more important to send him to a training site in a remote desert rather than let him stay at Fort Benning, Ga., to rehabilitate. In January, Hernandez was shipped to the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, Calif., where his unit, the 3,900-strong 3rd Brigade of the 3rd Infantry Division, was conducting a month of training in anticipation of leaving for Iraq in March.

Hernandez says he was in no shape to train for war so soon after his injury. "I could not walk," he told Salon in an interview. He said he was amazed when he learned he was being sent to California. "Did they not realize that I'm hurt and I needed this physical therapy?" he remembered thinking. "I was told by my doctor and my physical therapist that this was crazy."

Hernandez had served two tours in Iraq, where he helped maintain communications gear in the unit's armored Bradley Fighting Vehicles. But he could not participate in war maneuvers conducted on a 1,000-square-mile mock battlefield located in the harsh Mojave Desert. Instead, when he got to California, he was led to a large tent where he would be housed. He was shocked by what he saw inside: There were dozens of other hurt soldiers. Some were on crutches, and others had arms in slings. Some had debilitating back injuries. And nearby was another tent, housing female soldiers with health issues ranging from injuries to pregnancy.

Hernandez is one of a dozen soldiers who stayed for weeks in those tents who were interviewed for this report, some of whose medical records were also reviewed by Salon. All of the soldiers said they had no business being sent to Fort Irwin given their physical condition. In some cases, soldiers were sent there even though their injuries were so severe that doctors had previously recommended they should be considered for medical retirement from the Army.

Military experts say they suspect that the deployment to Fort Irwin of injured soldiers was an effort to pump up manpower statistics used to show the readiness of Army units."

Clearly, if the military is going to these lengths to pump up readiness statistics, we have a huge problem.  But these problems are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the effects of the Administration's rotation policy.  

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," this 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] 

Retention Rates

So Mr. President, the current deployment situation is hurting our troops, and it's hurting our troops in another way -- it's contributing to a drop in retention rates.  Keeping battle experienced and capable troops in the military is essential to our ability to respond to future threats. 

West Point classes of 2000 and 2001 have an attrition rate five times higher than pre-Iraq war levels:

  • 54% of the West Point Class of 2000 left Army by end of last year.
  • 46% of the West Point Class of 2001 left Army by end of last year.

Marine Corps active forces are also losing troops, especially critical mid-grade non-commissioned officers.  And this is despite a bonus for those who re-enlist.  Clearly, this policy is not sustainable.  

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.

The recent tornado that destroyed much of Greensburg, Kansas is a terrible example.  After their town was destroyed, Greensburg residents needed shelter, food and water.  And they needed it fast. But because the Kansas National Guard was stretched so thin, it was hard for them to respond as fast as necessary for an emergency right here at home.  Governor Sebelius and Major General Tod Bunting, the head of the Kansas National Guard, said not only is Guard equipment being worn out, but so are its troops - some of whom are on their fourth tour in Iraq. 

For years, these problems were the exception, not the rule.  But I fear that balance is shifting.  Last month, 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 – especially out in the West where we now face forest fires that are threatening homes and families and lives.

Families

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. While troops are away fighting for all of us -

  • Sons and daughters are born,
  • Sons and daughters grow up without fathers or mothers present,
  • Husbands and wives don't see each other for years,
  • Fathers and mothers die,
  • Family members become sick.

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."

Mr. President, those troops, according to this article, were deeply concerned about that.

Washington State – Tacoma News Tribune Article

Here in my home state in Tacoma, Washington just this past weekend, there's an article from the Tacoma New Tribune -- I ask unanimous consent to put it in the Record -- talking about the tremendously difficult time that they are having being redeployed. 

Webb Amendment

So Mr. President, I rise today to speak out for the Webb Amendment.  It  is an amendment that support our troops.  It supports our troops by requiring regular forces be home for at least as long as they are deployed. It requires that our National Guard and Reserve forces be home for at least three years for every year deployed. 

These seem like basic, common sense requirements.  And they are.  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. 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.