JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. — The Pentagon is slowing the pace of deployments to allow most major Army units to stay two years at their home post before heading back to a war zone, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mike Mullen said Monday.
Many of these units have been deploying every 12 to 15 months.
Mullen said he hopes the longer home stays will help soldiers strengthen ties with families and reduce the stresses that have piled up during nearly a decade of war in Afghanistan and Iraq.
"This is a huge change," the admiral said during a meeting with soldiers, sailors and Air Force personnel gathered at Joint Base Lewis-McChord. "I have believed for some time that we have held an awful lot of our problems in."
The shift to a two-year home cycle will affect about 70 percent of the major Army units and is made possible by the rapid reduction of U.S. forces in Iraq.
By the end of August, the number of troops in Iraq is to be down to 50,000 compared with about 170,000 during a 2007 peak. Further reductions are expected during the next 16 months.
There is still uncertainty over the pace of withdrawals from Afghanistan, where about 95,000 U.S. troops are stationed.
Some infantry, Special Forces and other units will continue to be deployed at shorter intervals for the next few years, Mullen said.
Pentagon officials have singled out the rapid pace of deployments as a key concern in an all-volunteer force that has experienced a sharp increase in suicides in the Army.
Mullen said the services need to do a better job of helping soldiers prepare for their return to civilian life, as well as stay in touch with those men and women after they leave the service.
He noted a surge in the number of veterans who are homeless.
"We are generating homeless vets from your peer group, and we are doing that at a rate that is unacceptable, including a dramatic increase in the number of female vets. … We can't just sit by," he said.