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Army Spouses Expect Reenlistment Problems

Army Spouses Expect Reenlistment Problems

Source: Washington Post

CLARKSVILLE, Tenn. -- Patty B. Morgan's husband was fighting in Iraq with the 101st Airborne, and she was caring for two children by herself. Their lease was expiring and they had committed to buying a house across town, so she was going through with the move anyway. One hot morning last July, as she was about to drive boxes to the new place, she walked outside, infant car seat in hand, and opened the garage door -- to find that her green Jeep had been stolen. A few days later, she was told that her husband wouldn't be home by Labor Day, as she had expected, but would serve in Iraq six months more, for a total of a year. "It was a hell of a week," Morgan said in her throaty voice. Morgan's experience is part of a significant change in Army life brought about by the post-9/11 world: The extended, or repeated, deployments that have characterized the Army since then have intensified the burdens traditionally borne by military families. And most of the spouses who have remained behind are wondering how long the Army can keep it up. This change is reflected in a recent poll conducted by The Washington Post, the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation and Harvard University, and in dozens of supplemental interviews. The poll, the first nongovernmental survey of military spouses conducted since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, included more than 1,000 spouses living on or near the 10 heaviest-deploying Army bases. While most of them said they have coped well, three-quarters said they believe the Army is likely to encounter personnel problems as soldiers and their families tire of the pace and leave for civilian lives. Lt. Gen. Franklin "Buster" Hagenbeck, the Army's personnel chief, said in an interview that, overall, The Post/Kaiser/Harvard poll results seemed to reflect those of the service's internal surveys. The findings come at a time when the Army is providing soldiers' families with unprecedented levels of support. Over the past 30 years, beginning with the end of conscription after the Vietnam War, the service became smaller, more professional -- and more married. By the 1991 Persian Gulf War, the military was caught flat-footed by the growing need to support soldiers' families during a major deployment. In response, the Army built a robust network of family supports ranging from day care to counseling to legal help to instruction in Army basics, household finance and coping with stress. In addition, spouses can volunteer to watch over one another through Army Family Readiness Groups. As Patty Morgan dealt with her crisis last July, she also drew on another common, and powerful, resource: her "military girlfriends" from nearby Fort Campbell, Ky. They swooped in, she recalled, to provide babysitting, transportation and relief from her volunteer duties with her Army Family Readiness Group so she could go ahead with her move and do the paperwork to replace the Jeep. "We have formed bonds," she said. "We're all family." Hagenbeck said the Army is taking family concerns over deployments into account. "We recognize that as a major issue," he said. Yet since Sept. 11, 2001, the Army has been increasingly expeditionary -- that is, based in the United States but prepared to take on a stream of new missions overseas. "That's the business we're going to be in for a while," said Col. Michael Resty, the garrison commander at Fort Carson, Colo. "Anybody who thinks differently is fooling themselves." The strain on troops and their families has led some in Congress to advocate a big boost in the size of the active-duty Army, which stands at about 485,000 troops. The Pentagon is planning to add 30,000 soldiers over the next several years, but before agreeing to further expansion, it wants to see whether the other steps it is taking will ease the strain. Most notably, the Pentagon is reorganizing divisions to expand the number of the Army's deployable brigades from 33 to 48. In addition, the Army has announced a new policy under which troops will serve longer tours at bases, permitting their families to put down deeper roots. The question is whether those steps will be sufficient. "There's no way to know for sure," said Tom Donnelly, a former staff member of the House Armed Services Committee. Donnelly said he expects that 2005 will be "the make-or-break year," as some soldiers who have already served in Iraq for a year are sent back for a second tour.

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