Ellen Tauscher / San Francisco Chronicle – 2009-02-15 23:56:14
(February 12, 2009) — Having fought two wars on two fronts for more than seven years, our troops are tired and our military’s equipment is worn out.
The demands of multiple deployments in quick succession have taken a toll on our troops, who suffer on a personal level, experiencing higher rates of suicide, divorce and post-traumatic stress disorder. This has hampered the military’s ability to respond to another crisis somewhere else in the world to protect America’s interests.
That’s why Congress must pass legislation making sure the military services guarantee “dwell time,” a period of time to rest and regroup, for our soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines.
Active-duty troops should have at least a month of rest for every month they were deployed in a combat zone. Reservists and National Guardsman should have at least three months of rest for each month of deployment.
The pace of deployments needed to sustain combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan has taken a toll on our servicemen and servicewomen, who silently endure emotional fatigue and distress. They have missed their children’s births, their parents’ funerals and learned of divorces on blogs and Web sites.
Take Douglas Del Campo, a 26-year-old former Air Force military policeman, who is now working at Travis Air Force Base in my congressional district. After four tours of duty in Iraq and rushed rest periods between, Douglas is haunted by nightmares of beheadings. He says he is irritable and always on a heightened sense of security even though the battlefields of Iraq are thousands of miles away.
These are classic symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder and, fortunately, Del Campo is seeking treatment at a local Veterans’ Administration hospital.
Del Campo and the rest of our men and women in uniform deserve and need more time between deployments to adjust from the intense stress of counter-insurgency warfare, to reconnect with their wives and children, and to pursue educational opportunities and other goals.
The situation today, when more than a third of the 1.7 million troops who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan have been deployed more than once, is as dire as it was after the war in Vietnam when our troops were fatigued, our equipment was worn out, and our military leaders said we had a “hollow Army.”
Last year, senior military officials determined that there has been an overall decline in military readiness and there remains a significant risk that the U.S. military might not be able to respond effectively if confronted with a new crisis.
As dangerous as the world can be, we cannot afford to have a “hollow Army.”
Congress needs to step in because the military continues to skirt its own rules by shortening dwell time. Today, I am reintroducing a bill to guarantee that troops will have more time to rest and prepare for subsequent deployments.
Some critics have said that such a bill would tie the hands of the military in a crisis, but the bill includes a provision that the president can waive the new law if confronted with a crisis.
It’s time to put partisanship and politics aside to do the right thing for our troops.
Rep. Ellen Tauscher, D-Walnut Creek, is the chairman of the Strategic Forces Subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee.
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