So if you’ve been paying attention lately, you may have seen that starting in 2012, deployments are going to shift to 9 months for Army units. Which is great right? That’s what we’ve been trying to get to for years since the wars started. Finally, the senior leaders are doing what we promised our troops for so long: time home.

Yeah. Not so much.

See the 9 month deployment thing only applies to, well, units. So if you happen to stay part of a single unit for the entire deployment cycle as well as once you come home, great for you. But the reality is that many many folks are not in the same unit today that they were in 3 years ago. And what does that mean? They’re deploying again and they may or may not get the 9 month deployment thing.

See HRC, by necessity, is a numbers game. How long have you been on station? How long since you’ve been overseas? When was your last combat tour? Have you been to Korea yet? And the folks bearing the brunt of these assignments? Our enlisted force. I’ve got sergeant E5s in my formation that have deployed to combat 3 and 4 times. If they’ve been in my unit the whole time, they’ve gotten a little more dwell time than they might have if they’d been in a brigade combat team. But what if they just came from a BCT to my unit? Well guess what, we’re deploying in a few more months. And well, if they won’t waive their dwell time, then I can’t use them.

As a commander, much like HRC must, I’ve got to look at the big picture. I’ve got to look and figure out where I can afford to assume risk and where I cannot. If I lose my E5s because they break, either from too much family strain, too many combat tours or a combination of both, what have I done? I’ve hollowed out my force, depending on folks that are too junior to know all of the implied tasks that come with being an NCO.

Since I’ve become an officer, there are many things on this side of the fence that still piss me off and the number one reason is the manning on the enlisted side of the house. Why does it take an act of Congress to get an E5 delayed on an assignment so that his spouse can move with him? Why does it take an act of a two star general to get a master sergeant’s assignment deleted so that his spouse can PCS with him? We make everything so difficult when it comes to taking care of the folks who really do make our Army run. Because believe me, if the NCO corps isn’t doing it’s job, every single officer will feel the pain.

So why can’t we take better care of our enlisted troops or better, of the individual? Is it a matter of being overwhelmed by the sheer number of people who need/want assistance? Why does someone half way across the country get the final vote when I, as the commander on the ground, know what’s best for him or her?

The 9 month deployments are a good thing for those folks who stay in a single unit. But Korea is always an assignment necessity. As are the mandatory schools that check the block on your professional education system. And all of that means that our combat veterans, our troops who need to have the ability come home at the end of the day and sit on their couch with their families and put their kids to bed don’t get that chance. Some people can handle it and continue to soldier on. Others can’t and there is no shame in raising your hand and saying, I can’t keep doing it.

But when we as an institution stop caring about the needs of individual over the needs of the whole, or make it too difficult to care for those troops who have given us their all and just ask for a little time to heal, we have failed.

I’m glad we’re going to 9 month deployments for units. Just don’t get it twisted and think it applies to everyone because it doesn’t. The units are made up of people. And far too many of those individuals haven’t had the time they need to recover from the constant cycle of deployments.