San Diego Union Tribune

May 18, 2004

Extended Iraq duty for Marines considered
Pentagon might add months to tours


WASHINGTON As Pentagon officials scramble to find troops to maintain an expanded force level in Iraq, they are considering extending the time Marines are scheduled to stay there, a senior military official said yesterday.

"We are looking at the Marines' tour," the official said during a briefing on plans to send 3,600 soldiers from South Korea to Iraq.

The study could result in nearly doubling the Marines' expected time in Iraq.

Most of the 25,000 Marines in Iraq are from Camp Pendleton and Miramar Marine Corps Air Station.

Those Marines and the similar number who are due to replace them later this year are slated to stay for seven months; Army troops remain in Iraq for at least one year.

Marine commanders decided on seven months in Iraq because that was close to the 6-month deployments Marines normally make with amphibious task forces.

But the shorter time deployments are offset by the chance that the Marines could be sent out again in seven months. Troops are promised a year at home after a yearlong deployment, the military official said.

"What everyone's tour will be" is being evaluated, said the official, who briefed Pentagon reporters on condition of anonymity.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld had intended to reduce the number of U.S. troops in Iraq this spring, but the increased conflict has forced him to retain a force of up to 138,000 troops.

That forced him to keep about 30,000 active-duty soldiers and Army Reserve and National Guard troops for an additional 90 days.

The Pentagon also ordered the estimated 2,200 troops from the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit in San Diego County to deploy to Iraq early instead of leaving on an expected deployment in June with the 3rd Expeditionary Strike Group.