When President Bush announced over the weekend that he was open to halting his promised troop withdrawals, he put in jeopardy many military families’ hopes that their loved ones would return home – particularly those on their second or third deployment in the region. Worse still, by vetoing the Defense Authorization bill only days earlier, the President rejected numerous benefits Democrats had secured for our men and women in uniform, including a 3.5 percent pay increase, incentive pay and bonuses for many career fields, enhanced care and treatment of troops returning with combat-related injuries, and extended leave for family members to take care of disabled service members.
President Bush Told General Petraeus It Was “Fine With Him” If He Wanted to Slowdown Troop Withdrawals. President Bush said Saturday that the United States was on track to bring home at least 20,000 troops from Iraq by summer, but he emphasized that he was willing to halt the drawdown “in order to make sure we succeed.” After meeting in Kuwait with his top commander in Iraq, Gen. David Petraeus, and the U.S. ambassador to Baghdad, Ryan Crocker, the president presented a mixed picture of the conditions one year after he called for sending additional troops to Iraq. Regarding the reduction in troop levels, Bush told reporters that he had told Petraeus, “If you want to slow her down, fine; it’s up to you.” [Los Angeles Times, 1/13/08]
- Last Month, Pentagon and Some Administration Officials Urged Further Drawdowns of U.S. Forces in Iraq. Administration officials said the White House could start to debate the future of the American military commitment in both Iraq and Afghanistan as early as next month. Some Pentagon officials are urging a further drawdown of forces in Iraq beyond that envisioned by the White House, which is set to reduce the number of combat brigades from 20 to 15 by the end of next summer. At the same time, commanders in Afghanistan are looking for several additional battalions, helicopters and other resources to confront a resurgent Taliban movement. [Washington Post, 12/17/07]
Bush Pocket Veto of Defense Bill Placed Benefits for Military Families in Jeopardy as Troops Struggle With 15 Month Deployments. The Dec. 28 pocket veto of the defense policy bill, in which President Bush simply refused to sign the $696.4 billion measure sent to him by Congress, places a number of benefits to military families at risk. As a result of the veto, service members will receive a 3 percent pay increase in their mid-January paychecks, not the 3.5 percent promised in the bill. And bonus and special pay programs were widely disrupted as of midnight Dec. 31, when the services lost the authority to pay new enlistment and re-enlistment bonuses and incentive pays and bonuses for many career fields, including aviators, medical personnel and submariners. The bill also included a provision to provide housing allowances during initial military training to any reservist who has a permanent home residence, something previously limited to reservists with dependents. That was to take effect when the bill became law, and cannot be backdated. Furthermore, the measure contained the Wounded Warrior Act, a package of improvements in the pay and benefits for combat-injured service members and expanded the Family and Medical Leave Act that would give spouses, parents, children and siblings of disabled service members up to 26 weeks of unpaid leave without fear of losing their jobs. [Army Times, 1/14/08]
- More than 420,000 Troops Have Deployed More Than Once and Stop/Loss Has Been Imposed On Over 50,000 Men and Women in Uniform. Army units are currently being deployed at an unprecedented rate since becoming an all/volunteer force and many brigades have not received the necessary “dwell time” indicated by Army doctrine. At least 10 Army brigades had their tours extended while deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan. In December, 2007 Army Chief of Staff Gen. George W. Casey Jr. told the Senate Armed Services Committee that the Army is “out of balance” and “The current demand for our forces exceeds the sustainable supply [Washington Post, 9/27/07].”
- General Casey Said Prolonged Deployments Were Detrimental to Soldiers, Their Families, and the Army As a Whole. “I’ve been doing this job now for eight months, and in the first four or five months my wife and I traveled all over…One of the things I did see was the cumulative effect of almost seven years of war on our soldiers, on our leaders, on our families and really on our institutions and our systems. A good example (of this) is Walter Reed, when you had five years worth of casualties coming into an arcane disability evaluation system, and it just backed up until it broke. And unfortunately, there’s a lot of those kinds of things happening all over the Army.” [Stars & Stripes, 12/17/07]