By David Hench
Blethen Maine Newspapers
For Michelle Darveau, the run-up to her husband's first deployment
overseas was a bumpy road. The 240th Engineer Group was notified in
2003 it might ship out, then told to stand down, then activated for a
15-month deployment in 2005.
Now with the 133rd Engineer Battalion, her husband, Maj. Richard
Darveau, and she know the unit is available for deployment in 2010
for no more than 12 months.
"I feel more comfortable knowing the schedule for my soldier for
planning purposes," said Michelle Darveau, a mother of two from South China.
Hundreds of Maine Army National Guard soldiers preparing for
deployment in the next year and a half are getting more advance
notice, will have shorter deployments and will be training closer to
home than had been the case for much of the war.
It's the result of a new policy intended to reduce strain on
soldiers, their families and employers while increasing the Guard's
availability for a prolonged war.
The state's largest National Guard Unit, the 133rd Engineers with 500
members, was notified last week to expect deployment in 2010.
But the announcement did not take guardsmen by surprise, as it did
for some when the unit's first deployment in 2004 was announced.
Under a Defense Department policy designed to improve the utility of
the National Guard, new and veteran soldiers already knew they would
be scheduled for a 12-month redeployment in roughly that time frame,
said Lt. Col. Dwaine Drummond, the battalion commander.
The policy is called the Army Force Generation Model. It's designed
to provide a predictable and steady stream of reserve forces to the
active-duty Army as the war in Iraq progresses through its sixth
year, longer than any modern U.S. war except Vietnam.
The model sets out a schedule in which most units are expected to be
available for redeployment every fifth year, with the year before
that earmarked for stepped-up mobilization training.
The scheduled rotation recognizes the shift of the National Guard
from a strategic reserve focused on national and state emergencies to
an operational reserve, an integral part of the active-duty military,
which guardsmen sometimes call "Big Army." The rotation guarantees
the Army that the units it needs will be ready when it needs them.
The year after a unit returns from war is designated as a re-entry
year, with fewer demands on the soldiers.
At the same time, the model also incorporates issues raised by the
state adjutant generals, who met with Defense Secretary Robert Gates
to discuss recruitment, retention and readiness as the war marches on.
The adjutant generals said they needed three things to be able to
continue recruiting and keeping desirable citizen soldiers:
predictability, 12-month maximum deployments and advance notice of deployments.
"When the 133rd and Air Medevac units deployed, we had no advance
notice they were going," Maj. Gen. John Libby said. "It was the
haphazard start to the war."
"We sent some of our units out on the first rotation with three
months notice," he said.
Without a schedule, guard members were constantly aware that they
could be deployed at any time, and short notice left soldiers,
families and employers little time to plan for the separation.
The system also wasn't ideal for the Guard and its preparation of
soldiers because they couldn't be certain who would deploy and where
to focus training and resources.
Employers, while supportive of employees who serve in the Guard, have
been calling for more predictability.
"An employer needs to have some time, to know when their employee is
leaving the company, how long they're going away for and when they'll
be called up again," said Jack Morton, senior manager for national
security and emergency preparedness for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
At Bath Iron Works, as many as 120 Guard members have been on the payroll.
"The volunteers who sign up for the Guard and Reserve are typically
those who are highly motivated on and off the job," said spokesman
Jim DeMartini. "It's always difficult replacing key contributors in
any circumstance ... short notice complicates a difficult process,
there's no question about it."
The impact is probably greater on a smaller employer, however, he said.
With 5,800 workers, BIW probably can absorb the loss of Guard
employees more easily than some small businesses, he said.
Another issue raised by state defense officials was the length of
deployments, a source of frustration for some families.
The Defense Department's policy has been for soldiers to spend 12
months in the war-zone, with mobilization training that could last
more than three months tacked on to the front end.
"You can slice it any way you want, the fact of the matter was they
were away from families and jobs for 16 months," Libby said.
Under the new approach, deployments are guaranteed as much as
anything is guaranteed during wartime to last no more than 12
months including mobilization training just before shipping overseas.
Soldiers still need to augment their annual two weeks and 12 weekends
of training as they hone their fighting skills prior to deployment.
Maine officials say under the current model, that training can be
done more efficiently and closer to home in the year leading up to a
"I think Maine prepares its soldiers better than anybody," said Col.
Jack Mosher, director of operations for the Maine Army National
Guard. "I would like to see Maine train and certify its own soldiers
in its own state and deploy them right out of Bangor Air Base to
theater. That would give them maximum time with family and employers
and in theater."
At the same time, he said, such training must cultivate the battle
focus and combat skills a soldier needs to survive it doesn't
benefit from going home every night after training, or training too
far in advance of a deployment.
Under the new Army model, the year before a unit deploys is marked by
an increase in training and resources shipments of equipment they
will be using overseas.
BOUND FOR AFGHANISTAN
That's the stage the 286th Combat Service Support Batallion is in
now, with its 76 members planning to deploy to Afghanistan early next
year. It is the first unit in the Maine Army National Guard to train
as part of the new five-year rotation.
Lt. Col. Diane Dunn, commander of the 286th, has spent the past two
weeks in South Dakota training with 4,000 other troops from around
the country, Canada and Singapore. The 286th manages the supplies an
Army needs to run ammunition, fuel and water.
Dunn returned this weekend for her daughter's graduation before
heading back for another week of training.
Instead of the traditional annual two-week training period, the unit
will have three such extended training missions, Libby said. At the
same time, additional full-time staff will be assigned to the unit to
perform personnel and readiness checks, he said.
LESS FAMILY TIME
There are some drawbacks to the policy. The trade-off for the
12-month deployment is a more aggressive training schedule the year
before deployment, which cuts into family and work time.
The 133rd will have about one-third more training days in 2009 than
usual, but Drummond said it shouldn't be too grueling.
"One of the things we're sensitive to is not making the year before
we go almost as bad as the year you do go," he said.
Michelle Darveau, whose husband is with the 133rd Engineer Battalion,
recognizes there are trade-offs to knowing her husband's unit is
available for deployment in 2010. It helps with planning purposes,
but she doesn't want her children to spend the next year and a half
worrying that their father may be serving in Iraq.
"It can change too. They could be called off," she said. "I try to
not get too anxious."
There was some concern that giving soldiers extended notice of a
deployment could hurt recruitment and lead to many soldiers leaving
the Guard rather than going overseas. But Mosher says that is far
from the case.
"Our strength is booming right now. More young people are joining
than we ever had," Mosher said.
Libby believes the changes are a positive step for the soldiers,
families and employers that are integral to the success of the Guard
in its new role as an adjunct to the active duty military.
But the changes won't prevent the loss of members before or after the
"We're very optimistic the system will work," he said, but he's
realistic, too. "Not everyone is going to be happy with the second
deployment, regardless ... I expect more retention problems after the
second deployment than the first."