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PCS extended: Army lengthens tours to four years

Army hopes to give soldiers 48 months at each post

May. 20, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
Massive budget cuts the Army has been forced to make have hurt soldiers, but here is one budget impact you might like: The average enlisted stateside assignment will be lengthened from 30 months to as long as 48 months.
Massive budget cuts the Army has been forced to make have hurt soldiers, but here is one budget impact you might like: The average enlisted stateside assignment will be lengthened from 30 months to as long as 48 months. (Staff)
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Massive budget cuts the Army has been forced to make have hurt soldiers, but here is one budget impact you might like.

Massive budget cuts the Army has been forced to make have hurt soldiers, but here is one budget impact you might like.

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Massive budget cuts the Army has been forced to make have hurt soldiers, but here is one budget impact you might like: The average enlisted stateside assignment will be lengthened from 30 months to as long as 48 months.

The minimum standard for time on station under this initiative will be 36 months, said Col. Bob Bennett, Human Resources Command’s director of enlisted personnel management.

The goal is to save money by stretching permanent change-of-station assignments beyond four years.

A reprogramming request now before Congress includes a roughly $100 million reduction in PCS travel, reflecting fewer PCS moves, which in turn will increase time on station at most stateside installations.

“We are looking at ways to increase unit readiness, stability and predictability for soldiers and their family members,” Bennett said.

Increased time on station means commanders and professional development NCOs have more flexibility in when they slate soldiers for military education courses, or for broadening and career-enhancing assignments that only are available at particular times, such as tours at a major headquarters or with a joint or combined services activity.

Interviewed in mid-April, Bennett said, “We have about 70,000 soldiers on orders right now.”

The average time on station for those soldiers is 30 months. But that includes soldiers coming out of advanced individual training after just a few months in the Army, soldiers in overseas locations with designated tour lengths, and reassignments related to re-enlistment. Excluding them,the average time on station is 46 months.

While career managers will strive to keep soldiers on station for at least 36 months, sometimes it will be necessary to move individuals to meet an Army requirement, or for personal reasons, such as a compassionate reassignment.

The Army also may move soldiers earlier than 36 months to fill requisitions for drill sergeants, detailed recruiters, inspector general positions, duty with special organizations, such as the White House Communications Agency, and to fill priority grade and specialty requirements in units preparing for deployment.

Promotions and re-enlistments also can trigger moves when individuals are reassigned to positions for their new rank, or to locations related to a re-up option.

Assignments such as those in South Korea, Japan, Hawaii, Alaska and Europe already are determined by standardized tour lengths of one to three years for unaccompanied and accompanied soldiers.

Key components of the reassignment process, and the length of time soldiers stay on one location, are determined by Army requirements, professional development considerations and soldier preferences.

A chance to set roots

Soldiers told Army Times they are excited about the news.

“A soldier is deployed for one year of their tour — and soldiers at some places do back-to-back tours,” said Sgt. 1st Class Giovanni Robinson, a military policeman who is en route to Kuwait, where he will serve as director of emergency services — his sixth PCS move in 17 years. “If I have soldiers with four-year duty assignments, I have continuity. If I know I am going to keep an individual for a while, I have a chance to truly mentor and nurture that career.”

And garrison commands that have to rebuild after every deployment will benefit, as well.

“I know I will lose 30 [percent] to 50 percent of a platoon after a deployment to [expiration term of service] and PCS,” he said. “To be able to come back with the same people you deployed with makes a better unit, and it gives everyone an opportunity to deconflict together because the bonds and camaraderie already exist.”

Robinson said such a construct would allow more soldiers to attend college and career-broadening schools. And that sounds good to Maj. Isaritza Rosello, a physician assistant who is facing her third PCS in as many years.

Rosello is scheduled to PCS to Fort Hood,Texas, in August after two years at Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston. Before that, Rosello was stationed at Fort Bliss for just a year, and she was deployed for most of that time.

If given the chance, Rosello said she would like the opportunity to stay put for a while because the moves inhibit her ability to conduct medical research. In addition, she’s the primary caretaker for her parents.

Family is a factor that plays into a majority of PCS moves, and the “benefit to the family would be tremendous,” said Sgt. Jeremy Pough, who arrived at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va., in May from Heidelberg, Germany. It is his fifth PCS in 12 years.

“Longer time at a duty assignment will give a new Army spouse time to acclimate to Army life and help all families to fit in to their new community,” he said.

Staff Sgt. Kathryn Jackson moved to Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston in June 2012, and she’s already planning to stay.

“It would be wonderful to be stationed here longer,” she said. “My husband and I just got married, we just bought our first house, we just found a church family, and we’d like to stay.”

Her 14-year-old son also has settled in well, making good friends in school. She said she hopes to be allowed to stay at least until her son graduates from high school.

Robinson said longer tours could help reverse a trend of senior enlisted soldiers getting out because PCS orders disrupted the lives of their kids during critical high school years, despite programs such as senior stabilization.

Others said longer tours would give soldiers and families time to become a part of and invest in their community. It also would help spouses get better jobs and build experience and seniority.

Sgt. 1st Class Jeff Smith is moving to Fort Bragg, N.C., after three years with the 323rd Army Band at Sam Houston. Smith, who is married and has a 3-month-old son, said moving has disrupted his wife’s career as a band director.

“My wife is looking at a career change because of these moves.”

Longer tours can be a double-edged sword. It will be especially bad for those who get stuck in an undesirable location and can’t progress in their career without moving, said Capt. Chris Anderson.

“But I think that’s where [HRC] comes in and takes a hard look and makes that program work,” he said.

Maj. Diogo Tavares said longer time on station is “great” for family stability, as moving a soldier too often doesn’t give them “the chance to set roots.” But he is cautious that any change should ensure soldiers receive career perspective and experience needed for proper progression.

“I guess what the Army needs to do is they need to be smarter about the moves, especially now that budgets are shrinking,” said Tavares, who’s preparing to move to Lafayette, La., to be an ROTC instructor after three years with the 101st Airborne Division at Fort Campbell, Ky. Tavares said he, his wife and three kids are excited about their upcoming move.

“You get to meet new people. You get to work under new leadership,” he said.

Robinson agreed and said the Army must break away from the accepted reality that soldiers have to move to another location to get career-broadening assignments.

“For certain roles, you have to PCS,” he said. “But many use PCS to do a job at another post when we could have done the same thing at the command we just left. We need to get to the place where career progression is determined by duty assignments, not location assignments.”

Michelle Tan contributed to this story.

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