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DoD News Briefing with Secretary Gates and Gen. Pace from the Pentagon

Presenters: Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Peter Pace
April 11, 2007 3:00 PM EDT
          SEC. GATES: On becoming secretary of defense, I focused immediately on the various challenges facing the total force, both active and Reserve components.   
            In January of this year, I announced a new set of policy initiatives to improve how the Department of Defense manages the deployment of Reserve component forces. My objective was to set clear guidelines that our commanders, troops and their families could understand and use in determining how future rotations in support of the global war on terror would affect them. 
            At the time, I also understood that we faced a similar challenge in establishing clear, realistic, executable and long-term policy goals to guide the deployment of active-duty forces, particularly the Army. 
            This year I learned that the then- -- earlier this year I learned that the then-level of deployed forces in Iraq and Afghanistan would require active-duty units to flow into Iraq before they had spent a full 12 months at home. It is important to point out that this was the case prior to the president's decision to provide additional forces to support the Baghdad security plan. This reality was a significant factor influencing my decision to recommend to the president that we grow the Army and the Marine Corps over the next five years by 65,000 and 25,000, respectively.   
            As the next step, acting upon the recommendation of the acting secretary and chief of staff of the Army, I am announcing today a new policy intended to provide better clarity, predictability and sustainability in how we deploy active-duty Army forces. 
            Effective immediately, active Army units now in the Central Command area of responsibility and those headed there will deploy for not more than 15 months and will return home to home stations for not less than 12 months. This policy applies to all units with the exception of two brigades currently deployed that have already been extended to 16- month deployments. 
            This policy is a difficult but necessary interim step that will be kept in place only until we can shift with confidence to the 12- month deployments and 12 months at home, and ultimately to the rotation goal for Army active-duty forces of 12 months deployed and 24 months at home. Without this action, we would have had to deploy five Army active-duty brigades sooner than the 12 months at home goal. I believe it is fair to all soldiers that all share the burden equally. 
            This policy will accomplish two other goals. First, it represents a fair, predictable and sustainable commitment to our troops that they can use with confidence to understand what the country is asking of them as they deploy. I strongly believe that we owe our troops as much advanced notice as possible and clarity on what they and their families can expect. In other words, predictability. 
            Second, this policy is a matter of prudent management, will provide us with the capacity to sustain the deployed force. This approach also upholds our commitment to decide when to begin any drawdown of U.S. forces in Iraq solely based on conditions on the ground. 
            I realize this decision will ask a lot of our Army troops and their families. We are deeply grateful for the service and sacrifice of our men and women in uniform and their commitment to accomplishing our mission. In the end, I believe this new approach will allow the Army to better support the war effort while providing a more predictable and dependable deployment schedule for our soldiers and their families. 
            The acting secretary and chief of staff of the Army and other senior Army officials will provide a background briefing for you tomorrow morning on the specifics and the implications of this change. Senior Army officers are notifying unit commanders as we speak. 
            Thank you. Be happy to take some questions. 
            Q     Yes, sir. Two questions. One very quick one on the Marines. The Marines now have, what, seven-month deployments. Will they be extended as well? Should they be extended as a matter of equity here? And also, currently, for those that get extended past 12 months, they get additional pay for those extensions for those additional months. Now do you have a new policy? Will troops that are there, you know, more than 12 months be getting the additional pay? 
            SEC. GATES: Yes. On the second part of your question, the answer is yes. They will get the additional pay of a thousand dollars a month. 
            The first part of your question, I'll ask the chairman to answer. 
            GEN. PACE: For the first part, right now with the new policy, the Army rotations will change, the Marine rotations will not. The Army will have 15 months overseas -- up to 15 months overseas, 12 months back, so they'll be deployed 15 months out of 27. The Marines will stay with what they have, which is seven over, six back, seven over, six back. So they'll have 14 out of 26. So Army will be 15 out of 27, the Marines will be 14 out of 26. 
            Q     Mr. Secretary, is it -- does this step confirm what a lot of people have been saying for some time, that the U.S. military, particularly the Army, is broken? 
            SEC. GATES: No, not at all. I think that the fact that the Army retention remains as high as it -- that retention in the Army remains as high as it has, that recruitment remains strong -- I saw an article this morning that the Army Reserve was below their goal -- the reality is the regular Army and the Army Guard are above their goals, so the Army Reserve is competing with them for that. So I think that if the Army were quote-unquote "broken," you would not see these kinds of retention rates and our ability to recruit. 
            I think that what this recognizes, though, is that our forces are stretched. There's no question about that. And it is an attempt, above all, to provide -- instead of dribbling out these notifications to units sort of just in time when they're to deploy -- what we're trying to do here is provide some long-term predictability for the soldiers and their families about how long their deployments will be and how long they will be at home, and particularly guaranteeing that they will be at home for a full 12 months. 
            Q     Could you just clarify, you're changing the policy establishing an upper limit of a deployment. But does that mean that all the units that are deployed to Iraq are now extended -- all the Army units are now extended to 15 months? 
            And can you also tell us why you're making this announcement publicly now at the same time that the troops and their families are hearing it, because normally that's done -- they get notified first. 
            SEC. GATES: All the units that are there and all the units that will deploy are now extended -- will be extended to 15 months. The most important part was that before making this policy change, we were looking at a growing number of troops in the active component who were going to be home less than 12 months. And what we are doing here is saying -- I think many of those troops were expecting to be extended, and so this provides clarity for them and a decision. But it also tells them they're going to have a full year at home. 
            In terms of why we're announcing it simultaneously with the unit commanders, I'll be very blunt. Some very thoughtless person in this building made the unilateral decision yesterday to deny the Army the opportunity to notify unit commanders who could then talk to their troops 48 hours before we made a public announcement. And I can't tell you how angry it makes many of us that one individual would create potentially so much hardship not only for our service men and women, but their families, by giving -- by letting them read about something like this in the newspapers. 
            Q     Mr. Secretary, we've been told repeatedly that the reason for the so-called surge in troops and the extensive deployments is to create conditions in Iraq for reconciliation. But outside of the oil law, can you point to any reconciliation measure that is moving forward? And are you concerned about it? 
            SEC. GATES: Well, my understanding is that the de- Ba'athificiation -- my understanding is the de-Ba'athification law has been -- or is being forwarded to the Council of Representatives. 
            And I know that they're working on some of the other pieces of legislation, but I think that the only -- and they're working also on the revenue-sharing part of the hydrocarbon law.   
            So I think that we're at a phase where you have the legislative body in effect receiving these bills from the government and working their way through them. But you know, it's still early in the process, and we still have a level of violence in Baghdad, obviously. But I think -- and as General Petraeus has said pretty consistently, he expects not to be able to evaluate all of this until later this summer.   
            Q     Are you happy with the pace of reconciliation, though?   
            SEC. GATES: I'm sorry.   
            Q     Are you happy with the pace of reconciliation?   
            SEC. GATES: I'd like to see it be moving faster.   
            Q     Mr. Secretary, can you tell us how long this measure allows you to sustain the surge now?  Previously with the previous measures which were announced, you're looking at being able to maintain that 20-brigade level until August, I believe. How long does this allow you to maintain that level in Iraq?   
            SEC. GATES: Probably at least a year.    
            Q     A year from now, or --  
            SEC. GATES: A year from now.   
            Q     Can I clarify that and ask a question? Are you indicating that the administration is preparing now to keep the surge in place for one year? And may I also ask --  
            SEC. GATES: Let me answer them in order so I don't forget. The answer to that is no. We are creating the capability to keep it in place. Whether it will be kept in place depends entirely on the conditions on the ground.   
            Q     Now the other thing I wanted to ask is, the troops certainly had -- while you said some of them thought they would be extended, in fact, there had been a general hope that they had, I believe, that they could spend 12 months at home with their families and only have a 12-month tour on the ground. So with all due respect, what would either of you, and you as well General Pace, say to a recruit today or to a young soldier? Why should they believe that this is it? Why should they not believe that they're being asked to now, years later, pay a price for a policy that didn't work initially? Why should they believe that this is it, that there won't be further changes for their deployment plans?   
            GEN. PACE: First of all, our troops are very sophisticated. They understand that someone we're not thinking about tomorrow could attack our country and throw all of our planning into a hat. The bottom line is that I do believe that the troops do understand the successes that they're having, the progress that they're making. They have been understanding of the need to increase the length of their tours. They have not known, nor have their families known with any kind of predictability, how long that was going to be.   
            Some units were being extended for 30 days, some for 60, some for 90, some for more than that. And that was based on the conditions on the ground, and we were trying to be very precise in the way we did it.   
            In becoming precise, we were becoming more and more unpredictable for the families as far as how long their soldier was going to be gone. This way the families will know with certainty that if they are there now or if their loved ones are about to deploy, that it will be for a 15-month period.   
            That does not mean that something could not happen tomorrow that would cause our nation to need more of our armed forces to go do something different. But based on the requirements today, and to provide to the leadership of our country the ability to make decisions without being resource-constrained, so to speak, we want to make sure that the policies are in place in this department to be able to provide the requisite number of troops. That's what this is based on. 
            Q     (Inaudible) -- 
            SEC. GATES: Let me provide a -- let me provide a clarification -- I mean a -- just so there's no confusion. We are talking about 12 months at home for the active force, 15 months deployed for the active force. We remain committed to implementation of the decisions that I made in January that the Guard, the National Guard and Reserve component will be mobilized for a maximum of a year. And our hope is that their time at home -- our goal, again, there is five years, and our goal is to -- and our effort will be to keep that dwell time at home as long as we can. But I don't want there to be any mistake, the Reserve component will still have a maximum mobilization of one year. 
            Q     A couple of more -- 
            Q     Follow-up? 
            Q     Mr. Secretary, you also mentioned conditions on the ground. But just to clarify, is this an open-ended policy, the 15 months? How long do you expect that to be in effect? 
            SEC. GATES: I think that depends on the conditions on the ground. I've said all along that the hope had been that -- and has been that the surge is a matter of months, not a matter of years. And so we will just have to see how things develop on the ground in Iraq in terms of when we can begin to move first back to the 12 and 12 -- 12 deployed, 12 at home -- and then move eventually back to the one year at home -- one year deployed, two years at home. 
            Q     And you don't have in your mind it might be a year or two years that this policy is -- 
            SEC. GATES: I don't know the answer to that. 
            Q      Just a couple of more, please. I want to clarify. Can you speak to -- how much of this is driven by your commander in Iraq, who, in effect, inherited a plan -- General Petraeus -- before he arrived in office and now maybe he needs to rework it a little bit? Is this probably because of his confidence in the plan was -- has changed a bit? How can you characterize that? 
            SEC. GATES: Well, that may be a question that you want to direct to the leadership of the Army tomorrow. But my impression is that the initiative or the impetus for this actually came as we were looking at the deployment orders over the next several months and seeing the relatively limited advanced notice we were going to be able to give the troops; that the initiative actually came from the Army leadership to say how can we do this in a way that gives these troops more clarity and more predictability, in terms of meeting our responsibility to provide the forces that the commander has asked for. 
            So it's -- I think the initiative actually was in this building with a view to trying to give greater clarity and fairness to the deployed force. 
            Q     (Off mike) -- your characterization -- is it fair at all to say that you're -- you coming into the job had one expectation, and you kind of learned the hard realities the last few months over the readiness or the ability of the forces -- 
            SEC. GATES: No, I would say I came to the job believing that the Army and the Marine Corps needed to be larger to perform the missions that they had been given and that I felt that the Guard -- that more was being asked of the Guard than many of the members of the Guard had expected when they joined. 
            So I have -- what I have tried to do, as some of these options have been brought to me, is to try and put into place, both first with the Reserve component and now with the active component of the Army, longer-term policies that provide some assurances to the troops and predictability where perhaps there wasn't any before that. 
            GEN. PACE: And don't forget, as we were -- as General Petraeus -- as the plan was being put together, General Petraeus was in command of the command that had the doctrine for counterinsurgency. He was very much involved in that respect in assisting and providing recommendations to General Casey and the -- and General Odierno. 
            So he was very much involved with the development of the plan. As you recall, when he testified, he testified in support of the plan as it was being written at the time, so he had -- he went there inheriting the plan that he helped to write. 
            Q     Mr. Secretary, I just want to clarify a couple things, then I have a question. Quickly, so will 15 months become essentially the standard tour of duty, when you said up to 15 months? 
            SEC. GATES: For the active component. 
            Q     The active component. I mean, but we're not talking about the large numbers who have served less than 15 months. You said up to -- no more than 15 months. (Off mike) -- be 15 months. 
            SEC. GATES: That's what their expectation should be. 
            Q     And does it apply to Afghanistan as well as Iraq? 
            SEC. GATES: Yes. It applies -- as the opening statement said, it applies to all -- for all active duty Army forces -- units in the Central Command area of responsibility. 
            Q     And my last point of clarification, what about the Navy and the Air Force, which also have not a lot, but still significant number of ground forces in both of those theaters? 
            GEN. PACE: Again, each service has its own deployment tempo based on the unique service perspective. For example, the Marine Corps and the Navy are tied somewhat to the ship deployment schedule, so when you try to make Marine units, for example, and have part of the Marine Corps on 12-month tours, and the part that's married to the Navy on 12-months tours, it doesn't work, which is why the Marine Corps works best seven over/six back, seven over/six back . 
            Q     (Off mike) -- is there any change in the Navy or Air Force deployment? 
            GEN. PACE: No. 
            Q     And my last question is, this idea that we learned about this morning, I guess, about having a war czar, someone to coordinate the effort in Afghanistan and Iraq, that would presumably be even over your level, how do you feel about that? 
            SEC. GATES: Well, first of all, I frankly am kind of amused by the level of excitement over this. Both Republicans and Democrats for some time have been urging that there be somebody in the White House who could act as a coordinator for the civilian side of the government along with the Defense Department. And the idea is to have someone in the White House who would work as part of the National Security Council, so they're not detached from it, but also have a direct reporting line to the president, who could -- when Admiral Fallon or Dave Petraeus or Ryan Crocker have requested something from the government and not gotten it, or it's moving too slowly through the bureaucracy, that there is somebody empowered by the president to call a Cabinet secretary and say, "The president would like to know why you haven't delivered what's been asked for yet." 
            So this person is not "running the war." This person is not going to have somebody embedded in the departments. This person is -- this czar term is, I think, kind of silly. The person is better described as a coordinator and a facilitator, somebody -- this is what Steve Hadley would do if Steve Hadley had the time, but he doesn't have the time to do it full-time.  
            And so it's a person to make sure that the -- you know, one of the arguments that we hear frequently -- and frankly are very sympathetic with -- is that we and the State Department are about the only parts of the government that are at war. This kind of position is intended to ensure that where other parts of the government can play a contributing role, that in fact they understand what the president's priorities are and make sure that the commanders in the field, the ambassador in the field gets what he needs. 
            Q     And since this new policy will affect both units already in Iraq and those that are going -- maybe you can both take a crack at this -- will there be sort of a larger overlap? I guess my question is, as this goes forward, will there be several months -- will there be a significant increase in the number of troops in Iraq, because perhaps there are units already ready to deploy -- (off mike). 
            GEN. PACE: No -- I understand. No, what this will allow us to do, among other things, will be for those units that were going to be going sooner than 12 months, they will now be able to not go early -- there's about five of those that were going to go early -- that will now not go early, you know. It would allow those who are there to be there longer and then to have longer at home when they get home. But it will not result in an increase beyond the 20 brigades that we're planning on. 
            SEC. GATES: And now they know with clarity the end time of when they're coming home. Now, they might come home a little earlier than that, but -- 
            Q     Mr. Secretary, you've asked, I think, for a plan on compensation to the National Guard units for -- if they're asked to extend beyond the normal rotation in Iraq. I believe that's it. Would this plan for the active brigades have any additional compensation that came along with them? Would there be any change in that -- 
            SEC. GATES: They will get the same compensation beyond the one year that has been paid up to now for those who are extended. 
            On the Reserve component additional compensation, I expect to have a paper on my desk Friday and sign it. 
            Q     And General Pace, as an all-volunteer force, when these soldiers signed up, they signed up with the understanding that if they were going to be deployed into combat, it would be a one-year tour, and I dare say that they would have two years off, not just one, but two years.  Has the Pentagon, the Army, the military broken that covenant with those soldiers?   
            And as a uniformed officer yourself who's seen combat, what do you think this is going to do to the overall morale, not only for the soldiers but for their families?  
            GEN. PACE: First of all, we have had some wonderful young Americans over the last four or five years who, knowing full well that the nation's at war, have volunteered to serve the nation and to go to war. And I do not believe that when they signed up they thought it was going to be one tour of 12 months or any other number. I believe that they knew that they were joining a military that was at war and that they would end up, most likely, going into combat.   
            That said, it is our responsibility as leaders to provide for them the right training, the right equipment, the right quality of life. And this goes a long way toward making sure that we will have proper amount of time to train them; that they will have time with their families; that they will have a predictable life; that they can sit there around the dinner table and know that on calendar month so- and-so, daddy's going to leave, and on calendar month so-and-so, mommy's going to come home, and those kinds of things, which add to quality of life. 
            Is it an additional strain to go from 12 months to 15 months? Of course it is. Is it in combat and therefore even more difficult? Of course it is. And that's why the entire nation should be thankful that we have such incredible young men and women who, knowing that -- who volunteer to serve this nation in a time of great need. 
            SEC. GATES: And then re-up. 
            (Cross talk.) 
            Q     At least for now, at least for now. 
            Q     Is it safe to say now with this announcement that the surge -- whenever it's going to end, it's going to last longer than August, that we will still be at the surge level of 20 brigades past August? 
            SEC. GATES: I don't think anybody's in a position to answer that question now. 
            Q     Mr. Secretary? 
            Q     General, you said "more strain than we already have"; even with these new rules -- or because of these new rules, how long can the military sustain this level of activity before you start having serious impact on readiness, morale, recruiting, et cetera? 
            GEN. PACE: Oh, I think we must pay attention to that every single day, because it's not a precise point on a curve where we can say when you get to this point, something good or bad's going to happen. I think the troops want to and deserve to know that their leaders are mindful of what we're asking them to do, mindful of the additional strain, working to make that less than it is. And the decisions that the Guard -- that stabilize the Guard at 12-month mobilizations, this decision that adds predictability and the other things that we're trying to do to grow the size of the force -- 65,000 additional Army, 27,000 additional Marines -- all of those decisions are signals to the troops that we understand how hard they're working, that the nation is providing the resources to make that less in the future. But for right now, to get to that better future, we have to ask them for this additional stress on their part and their families. 
            SEC. GATES: Thank you. 
            Q     Can I ask one last point? There are 329,000 Iraqi forces, soldiers and police that you repeatedly said are in the lead, trained and equipped. What do you say to a family member who says, why is my husband or brother or son being extended? Why can't the Iraqis pick up the slack? What do you say to them? 
            GEN. PACE: I think you say the truth, which is that there are 329,000 trained. Of the 120 battalions, of about 500 Iraqis apiece, about 85 to 90 of those are in the lead or are working side by side; that they are getting better. That what we are doing as a U.S. armed force with our coalition partners is buying time for the Iraqi government to provide the good governance and the economic activity that's required.  
            As we said when we recommended this plus-up, no size plus-up for any duration in and of itself is going to be successful. What a plus-up can do for a period of time is provide to the government in Iraq the opportunity to provide leadership, to provide jobs, to do the reconciliation and the other things that only the Iraqi people and the Iraqi government can do for them. This allows us to be able to provide that stability. And this does not -- this decision today does not predict when this surge will end. What it does is it allows us to provide to the nation, if needed, the amount of force that's currently deployed for a sustained period of time. 
            SEC. GATES: We got to go. 
            Q     Isn't it true that the Americans are in fact in the lead? Isn't it true the Americans are in the lead, General? 
            (No response as the secretary and the general leave the podium.)
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