June 12, 2007:
Despite six years of war, and the
heavy demand for troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, nearly a quarter million
soldiers and marines have not been to a combat zone. A larger proportion of
marines (45 percent) than soldiers (37 percent) have not been to the sand box.
It's not for want of trying. The army and marine brass have made very public
efforts to get everyone a chance to spend time in a combat zone. Most troops
are eager to do this, at least once. After all, the main point of being in the
military is to be in combat, even though over 80 percent of those in uniform have
jobs that are not combat related.
But there are many aspects of military life that
make it impossible to get everyone into the combat zone. The main factors are
jobs that are not needed in Iraq or Afghanistan, and the need for troops in
other parts of the world. For example, U.S. Air Force Predator UAVs are
operated by crews stationed in the United States. That's because the Predator
uses a satellite communications link, and it's easier to keep the operators in
the United States, than station them in Iraq or Afghanistan. An increasing
number of military jobs are using this "reach back" technique, but a
lot of troops don't like it because they don't get to to the combat zone. The
marines and army have many jobs that are not needed in the combat zone. For
example, technicians that operate or maintain equipment that is not used in the
combat zone (some types of electronics gear, and some weapons.) The troops
stationed in Europe, the Pacific and other areas, often serve three year tours
there. Since most new troops sign up for four years, thus leaving no time for
an Iraq deployment, after time spent on training, and a three year tour
somewhere else. Moreover, training (including basic training) keeps 180,000
troops, in all the services, occupied at any time.
Air force and navy personnel are also in the combat
zones, although not as much right in the middle of it as are soldiers and
marines. Thus 53 percent of air force personnel, and 50 percent of sailors have
not been to the combat zone, or adjacent regions.