Military families

One of my former students married another former student who has become an officer in the U.S. Army.  She reports that the military has cut out the customary mid-deployment leave in which servicemen and women could spend some time with their families.  Here is a story about the change as it affects the National Guard.   This has gotten little attention in the media, so she has launched an effort to raise awareness of the issue, along with an online petition in support of military families.  Here is her statement:

 For Father’s Day this year, many deployed dads got the opposite of a present. They were told that the traditional two weeks of mid-deployment R&R that soldiers are given to see their families has been cut. Doing away with mid-deployment R&R is a devastating policy change that has affected practically all Army soldiers.

On the FAQs section of the Army.mil site, this is said about R&R: “The program provides respite from the stresses associated with the combat mission . . . this is seen as an investment in the well being of our forces that will improve mission performance.”

But unfortunately, this vital investment is no longer made. All soldiers and families have suffered from the cutting of the R&R program, but National Guard and Reserves soldiers are especially hard hit. Along with spending an entire nine months outside of the country, Guard and Reserve soldiers also must spend several months before that on full time, seven day a week mobilization orders, normally away from family. Twelve plus months is too long a time to work 24/7 for seven days a week. As the Army.mil site said, soldiers need R&R for morale. Military families also need R&R for family time.

Even with the R&R program, eleven years of back to back deployments have taken their toll. The PTSD rates among soldiers are ever increasing and this PTSD heightens the strain on marriages that are often already stretched to the breaking point by so many deployments. Military children also do their share of suffering when dad, and now increasingly mom as well, is never home.

Making life even harder on military families is a travesty. It is not right to try to balance the budget on the backs of military families. Sign the petition and ask your Senators, Congressmen, and the President to bring back our troops’ much-deserved R&R. http://www.petition2congress.com/8229/bring-back-military-rr/

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • NavyChaps

    The policy for R&R requires over 270 days boots on ground in specified areas within the CENTCOM AOR. So if the unit is projected to be in theater less time, they won’t give R&R. Also, you can’t take the leave the first or last 60 days of a deployment.

    What is unclear from the original article is how long the servicemember in question is projected to be deployed.

    Frankly, R&R is a very mixed bag — it can be a wonderful opportunity to reconnect with families; however you also have to leave again almost immediately. For any of you who have deployed, you know that the last 2 weeks before you leave is a time of increasing detachment anyway. R&R compacts that radically. For many it is a great chance to recoup, but for many others it is very difficult because they dare not allow themselves to really relax because they know they have to keep their “head in the game.”

    In country, the problem with R&R is that there is no body that takes over the duties of the one who is on leave. Those remaining simply have to cover down and work more. This is critical because we are under severe force caps that already prevent us from taking the numbers of personnel necessary to do the job! Commanders are forced to decide where there will take their risks. For example, do I take a chaplain or do I take a doctor, or do I take another trigger puller? The numbers allowed under the force cap are based upon the mission itself and does not consider the fact that a portion of the unit is back at home. As we continue our race to get out of Afghanistan, the numbers have become even tighter. Getting the numbers down is becoming more important than the actual mission itself.

    Typically the infantry battalions and other direct combat units are only in country about 7 months. Given their level of kinetic activity, this makes sense. Longer deployments (12-15 months) are typically done by staffs and upper echelon commands whose members frequently never leave the wire. Frankly, for many of them the most challenging thing on deployment will be the fact that the internet goes down and that they have to decide between vanilla and chocolate ice cream in the DFAC. Not to minimize the hardships of deployment and being away from loved ones – but let’s not assume that everyone out there is out on patrol and engaged with the enemy either.

    In my opinion, the real problem isn’t the lack of R&R, it is that deployments of a year or more are just too long. Two weeks at home in the middle does not undo the negative effects of being away from the family that long. I understand why we do R&R; I’m just not convinced of its effectiveness.

    I believe a better solution would be to reduce the longer, less-kinetic deployments to 10-months and get rid of R&R all together. Not that it matters. By the end of 2014 it won’t be an issue…unless of course the radical Islamists move somewhere else in the world. Oh, wait.

  • NavyChaps

    The policy for R&R requires over 270 days boots on ground in specified areas within the CENTCOM AOR. So if the unit is projected to be in theater less time, they won’t give R&R. Also, you can’t take the leave the first or last 60 days of a deployment.

    What is unclear from the original article is how long the servicemember in question is projected to be deployed.

    Frankly, R&R is a very mixed bag — it can be a wonderful opportunity to reconnect with families; however you also have to leave again almost immediately. For any of you who have deployed, you know that the last 2 weeks before you leave is a time of increasing detachment anyway. R&R compacts that radically. For many it is a great chance to recoup, but for many others it is very difficult because they dare not allow themselves to really relax because they know they have to keep their “head in the game.”

    In country, the problem with R&R is that there is no body that takes over the duties of the one who is on leave. Those remaining simply have to cover down and work more. This is critical because we are under severe force caps that already prevent us from taking the numbers of personnel necessary to do the job! Commanders are forced to decide where there will take their risks. For example, do I take a chaplain or do I take a doctor, or do I take another trigger puller? The numbers allowed under the force cap are based upon the mission itself and does not consider the fact that a portion of the unit is back at home. As we continue our race to get out of Afghanistan, the numbers have become even tighter. Getting the numbers down is becoming more important than the actual mission itself.

    Typically the infantry battalions and other direct combat units are only in country about 7 months. Given their level of kinetic activity, this makes sense. Longer deployments (12-15 months) are typically done by staffs and upper echelon commands whose members frequently never leave the wire. Frankly, for many of them the most challenging thing on deployment will be the fact that the internet goes down and that they have to decide between vanilla and chocolate ice cream in the DFAC. Not to minimize the hardships of deployment and being away from loved ones – but let’s not assume that everyone out there is out on patrol and engaged with the enemy either.

    In my opinion, the real problem isn’t the lack of R&R, it is that deployments of a year or more are just too long. Two weeks at home in the middle does not undo the negative effects of being away from the family that long. I understand why we do R&R; I’m just not convinced of its effectiveness.

    I believe a better solution would be to reduce the longer, less-kinetic deployments to 10-months and get rid of R&R all together. Not that it matters. By the end of 2014 it won’t be an issue…unless of course the radical Islamists move somewhere else in the world. Oh, wait.

  • Michael B.

    “Making life even harder on military families is a travesty. ”

    One thing you see in good-hearted people is that they sometimes have this very naive attitude that everyone is that way. It’s very difficult for them to imagine someone who is a psychopath, which is very common among top leadership. So you have these good-hearted people who join the military and give so much of themselves, and they have this expectation that some fraction of that will be reciprocated. Then they act surprised when they see things like backdoor drafts. When my children get to be military age, I will be strongly encouraging them to stay away.

  • Michael B.

    “Making life even harder on military families is a travesty. ”

    One thing you see in good-hearted people is that they sometimes have this very naive attitude that everyone is that way. It’s very difficult for them to imagine someone who is a psychopath, which is very common among top leadership. So you have these good-hearted people who join the military and give so much of themselves, and they have this expectation that some fraction of that will be reciprocated. Then they act surprised when they see things like backdoor drafts. When my children get to be military age, I will be strongly encouraging them to stay away.

  • Liz

    I’m going to politely disagree with NavyChaps. My husband, for the past 7 years, has been a member of a fire-support unit in the MN National Guard. He has spent 34 months of the past 7 years on active duty orders; 16 consecutive months in Iraq, as part of a 22 consecutive month deployment, and roughly ten consecutive months in Kuwait as part of a year long deployment. He was not (though currently is) a member of an upper echelon command. He was a member of 1/34 BCT.

    If an Army or Guard unit cannot accomodate R&R, it is a failure of leadership at the unit level to organize itself.

    Thank you, Dr. Veith, for bringing this to light.

  • Liz

    I’m going to politely disagree with NavyChaps. My husband, for the past 7 years, has been a member of a fire-support unit in the MN National Guard. He has spent 34 months of the past 7 years on active duty orders; 16 consecutive months in Iraq, as part of a 22 consecutive month deployment, and roughly ten consecutive months in Kuwait as part of a year long deployment. He was not (though currently is) a member of an upper echelon command. He was a member of 1/34 BCT.

    If an Army or Guard unit cannot accomodate R&R, it is a failure of leadership at the unit level to organize itself.

    Thank you, Dr. Veith, for bringing this to light.

  • Jon

    Yes, what the Chaplain said @1.

    The length of deployment should be reduced, I think, to no more than 6 months.

    The R&R of two weeks typically means that the person is away from their deployed unit–without replacement–for as many as 30 days, or even more.

    The transit system is such that it can easily take a week to transit out of, and another week to transit back into, Afghanistan. Meanwhile, your two week clock is not supposed to start until you reach home.

    I’ve seen the two week ordeal really throw families into a tizzy. It’s especially hard for kids who’ve been without dad for 6 months, only to have him suddenly crash back into their routine and mess it all up trying to maximize the family together-time activities–and it usually ends up being right around a stressful holiday time anyway–and then, poof!, he’s gone again for another four to six months.

    I’ve also seen the best use of RR when families meet up in Europe to spend the time together.

  • Jon

    Yes, what the Chaplain said @1.

    The length of deployment should be reduced, I think, to no more than 6 months.

    The R&R of two weeks typically means that the person is away from their deployed unit–without replacement–for as many as 30 days, or even more.

    The transit system is such that it can easily take a week to transit out of, and another week to transit back into, Afghanistan. Meanwhile, your two week clock is not supposed to start until you reach home.

    I’ve seen the two week ordeal really throw families into a tizzy. It’s especially hard for kids who’ve been without dad for 6 months, only to have him suddenly crash back into their routine and mess it all up trying to maximize the family together-time activities–and it usually ends up being right around a stressful holiday time anyway–and then, poof!, he’s gone again for another four to six months.

    I’ve also seen the best use of RR when families meet up in Europe to spend the time together.

  • http://www.bikebubba.blogspot.com bike bubba

    I don’t pretend to really understand the military, but Liz makes a great point about any organization. If your organization cannot function without certain key players, you have a failure in that organization. You never know when someone is going to get hit by a bus, a better job offer, a bullet, or a winning lottery ticket, and sensible managers plan for that contingency.

  • http://www.bikebubba.blogspot.com bike bubba

    I don’t pretend to really understand the military, but Liz makes a great point about any organization. If your organization cannot function without certain key players, you have a failure in that organization. You never know when someone is going to get hit by a bus, a better job offer, a bullet, or a winning lottery ticket, and sensible managers plan for that contingency.

  • skyorrichegg

    @Michael B.
    “It’s very difficult for them to imagine someone who is a psychopath, which is very common among top leadership.”

    You have any statistics to back up that sort of statement? It sounds like your only interaction with top leadership is from movies and TV shows where anyone depicted over the rank of Lt. Col. is always going to be morally ambiguous.

    I don’t have naive illusions about the nature of the military. Often problem officers (lazy or negligent rather than psychopathic) are “promoted” out of their position to places where they won’t effect the mission as much. This seems to be the nature of a lot of bureaucratic jobs. Also the upper echelons do sometimes select for aspects similar to that of a politician with careerists who are self-serving and pandering to superiors, rather than serving their unit or national security in general.

    However in general I think you would be hard pressed to argue that psychopathy is “very common” in the top leadership. Fallen, sinful, men and women, obviously, psychiatric cases, no.

  • skyorrichegg

    @Michael B.
    “It’s very difficult for them to imagine someone who is a psychopath, which is very common among top leadership.”

    You have any statistics to back up that sort of statement? It sounds like your only interaction with top leadership is from movies and TV shows where anyone depicted over the rank of Lt. Col. is always going to be morally ambiguous.

    I don’t have naive illusions about the nature of the military. Often problem officers (lazy or negligent rather than psychopathic) are “promoted” out of their position to places where they won’t effect the mission as much. This seems to be the nature of a lot of bureaucratic jobs. Also the upper echelons do sometimes select for aspects similar to that of a politician with careerists who are self-serving and pandering to superiors, rather than serving their unit or national security in general.

    However in general I think you would be hard pressed to argue that psychopathy is “very common” in the top leadership. Fallen, sinful, men and women, obviously, psychiatric cases, no.

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    Often problem officers (lazy or negligent rather than psychopathic) are “promoted” out of their position to places where they won’t effect the mission as much. This seems to be the nature of a lot of bureaucratic jobs. Also the upper echelons do sometimes select for aspects similar to that of a politician with careerists who are self-serving and pandering to superiors, rather than serving their unit or national security in general.

    These statements seem to have female written all over them.

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    Often problem officers (lazy or negligent rather than psychopathic) are “promoted” out of their position to places where they won’t effect the mission as much. This seems to be the nature of a lot of bureaucratic jobs. Also the upper echelons do sometimes select for aspects similar to that of a politician with careerists who are self-serving and pandering to superiors, rather than serving their unit or national security in general.

    These statements seem to have female written all over them.

  • skyorrichegg

    @sg
    “These statements seem to have female written all over them.”

    I’m not sure what you mean by this. Is it that you think those aspects describe females officers and bureaucrats or that you think I am a female based on that statement?

  • skyorrichegg

    @sg
    “These statements seem to have female written all over them.”

    I’m not sure what you mean by this. Is it that you think those aspects describe females officers and bureaucrats or that you think I am a female based on that statement?

  • P.C.

    Nine month deployments or less without the military member taking leave is very doable…both for the military member and his family. Continuously loosing members of a unit to take leave during combat operations (especially at the half way point of the combat deployment when most would want to take leave) reduces the combat effectiveness of the entire unit. Additionally, once the servicemember is back from leave it takes time to get “back in the fight” mode.

    However, what bothers me most about this article is the petition “ask your Senators, Congressmen, and the President to bring back our troops’ much-deserved R&R.” We don’t need Congress and the President getting into this type of policy. It is best for all to have the military leadership make these types of calls.

  • P.C.

    Nine month deployments or less without the military member taking leave is very doable…both for the military member and his family. Continuously loosing members of a unit to take leave during combat operations (especially at the half way point of the combat deployment when most would want to take leave) reduces the combat effectiveness of the entire unit. Additionally, once the servicemember is back from leave it takes time to get “back in the fight” mode.

    However, what bothers me most about this article is the petition “ask your Senators, Congressmen, and the President to bring back our troops’ much-deserved R&R.” We don’t need Congress and the President getting into this type of policy. It is best for all to have the military leadership make these types of calls.

  • Prov.31.Aspiration

    From a personal standpoint as a military wife, I am content with my deployed husband having no R&R. It meant a more compact deployment, and the knowledge that the next time I see him, he is home for good. No second goodbye. I do agree with NavyChap’s perspective for the most part. Getting rid of R&R is fine, as long as they allow that change to provide for sending the soldiers home more promptly.

  • Prov.31.Aspiration

    From a personal standpoint as a military wife, I am content with my deployed husband having no R&R. It meant a more compact deployment, and the knowledge that the next time I see him, he is home for good. No second goodbye. I do agree with NavyChap’s perspective for the most part. Getting rid of R&R is fine, as long as they allow that change to provide for sending the soldiers home more promptly.

  • Liz

    And from my own standpoint, a nine-month deployment means a 12-month plus mobilization. 12 months is a long time; and I find R&R just compensation for the three extra months separation. If a mobilization were nine months, I would go for it. However, orders change, extensions occur, and nothing is certain.

  • Liz

    And from my own standpoint, a nine-month deployment means a 12-month plus mobilization. 12 months is a long time; and I find R&R just compensation for the three extra months separation. If a mobilization were nine months, I would go for it. However, orders change, extensions occur, and nothing is certain.

  • Respectabiggle

    This is an odd choice of focus, given that the main story is that the Army is changing from 12-month to 9-month deployments. Focusing on the fact that this means no R&R seems to be like complaining that you’ll have to pay taxes on your Christmas Bonus.

    Having recently returned from a 12-month tour in Afghanistan, I’d have happily traded my two weeks of R&R for returning twelve weeks earlier.

  • Respectabiggle

    This is an odd choice of focus, given that the main story is that the Army is changing from 12-month to 9-month deployments. Focusing on the fact that this means no R&R seems to be like complaining that you’ll have to pay taxes on your Christmas Bonus.

    Having recently returned from a 12-month tour in Afghanistan, I’d have happily traded my two weeks of R&R for returning twelve weeks earlier.

  • Liz

    Respectabiggle,

    I agree if an entire mobilization were 9 months. For Guardsmen and Reservists, they still have the 9 month combat tour deployment preceded by a 3 or so month train up, on active duty orders, at a base remote from home. I see no reason why Guardsmen should not have 2 weeks R&R under these circumstances.

  • Liz

    Respectabiggle,

    I agree if an entire mobilization were 9 months. For Guardsmen and Reservists, they still have the 9 month combat tour deployment preceded by a 3 or so month train up, on active duty orders, at a base remote from home. I see no reason why Guardsmen should not have 2 weeks R&R under these circumstances.

  • NavyChaps

    Liz,
    I appreciate the challenge for National Guardsmen. My compatriot pastor was one while I was a Navy Reservist prior to returning to active duty.

    My Marine Battalions are the same way. You are right that they have 1-year mobilization orders. But they do 3+ months of training prior to deploying, and typically get 2 weeks at home prior to the deployment itself. So in reality, you’ve already received your R&R prior to their departure. I know that doesn’t make anyone feel better. But from the standpoint of the guy who has to keep everyone moving while in country, I’d much rather not have them gone at all because it creates so much churn. P.C. @9 has it right with respect to both the individual and the unit.

    Also, it is not that no individual is irreplaceable; it is that there is no one there who can do the replacing. It isn’t the military who is establishing force caps that prevent us from taking the “ideal” number of personnel. Those decisions are entirely made by civilian leadership who dictate our national policies.

    To Michael B: We would prefer you just say “thank you.”

    +pax+

  • NavyChaps

    Liz,
    I appreciate the challenge for National Guardsmen. My compatriot pastor was one while I was a Navy Reservist prior to returning to active duty.

    My Marine Battalions are the same way. You are right that they have 1-year mobilization orders. But they do 3+ months of training prior to deploying, and typically get 2 weeks at home prior to the deployment itself. So in reality, you’ve already received your R&R prior to their departure. I know that doesn’t make anyone feel better. But from the standpoint of the guy who has to keep everyone moving while in country, I’d much rather not have them gone at all because it creates so much churn. P.C. @9 has it right with respect to both the individual and the unit.

    Also, it is not that no individual is irreplaceable; it is that there is no one there who can do the replacing. It isn’t the military who is establishing force caps that prevent us from taking the “ideal” number of personnel. Those decisions are entirely made by civilian leadership who dictate our national policies.

    To Michael B: We would prefer you just say “thank you.”

    +pax+


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