Local News

More Time Overseas Could Mean Fewer Troops

Posted April 13, 2007 6:53 p.m. EDT

— Extended tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan could lead to a mass exodus from the military in the coming years, according to observers.

"Our troops are tired," said retired Air Force Lt. Gen. Robert Springer, a military analyst for WRAL. "There's a lot of people who are saying, 'Well, I'm out of here.'"

The recent announcement by Defense Secretary Robert Gates that tours of duty would be extended from 12 months to 15 months, with rotations back home shortened could exacerbate that trend.

"The Army always says they're all about the family, but I don't think they are when they're doing it like that," said Patricia Gurney, whose husband recently retired from the Army.

Gurney said she's glad her family won't have to deal with longer deployments, but she said she fears the Army will suffer.

"I think you're going to see a lot of soldiers trying to get out, and you're going to see more families being broken apart," she said.

Soldiers know deployments are part of the job, so few publicly complain. But some have told their wives that the current environment isn't what they signed up for.

"Eventually, people are going to serve their time and get out and go on with their lives," Army wife McKenzie Schalla said.

Congress has approved hiring 92,000 troops, including 65,000 soldiers and 27,000 Marines. But it will take five years to phase them in and longer to train them.

All branches of the military met or exceeded recruiting goals in February, the last month figures are available. Recruiters are working to entice more volunteers by enlisting soldiers up to age 42, allowing non-citizens to earn citizenship by serving and lowering the standards for test scores and minor scrapes with the law.

Springer said troop morale remains high but noted that could change.

"Men and women understand they have a mission to do, and they're about to do it," he said. "When soldiers give up on leadership, that's when you get the exodus."