US: Soldiers ordered by Army to divulge their foreign language skills

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at
Sun Jan 4 16:09:17 UTC 2009

The road ahead

12 things soldiers can expect in 2009
Staff reports
Posted : Saturday Jan 3, 2009 11:26:44 EST

>>From a new commander in chief to a revamped method of PT, soldiers
will see a slew of changes in 2009. Some might make Army life tougher.
Some might make it easier. But there's no doubt it's a packed agenda
as the Army's active and reserve forces shift gears in Iraq and face
likely increased action in Afghanistan, along with keeping up with the
day-to-day demands of running the service and meeting the needs of
families on the home front. Here's a look at some of the highlights:

1. NCO promotions
The new year kicks off this month with 4,400 soldiers expected to be
promoted in the sergeant ranks, 800 more than January 2008, Army
officials said. And the pace isn't supposed to let up, with a total of
51,000 noncommissioned promotions forecast through the year.

In January, senior NCO sequence numbers and mid-ranks cutoff scores
call for 11 advancements to sergeant major for the Regular Army, 78 to
master sergeant, 690 to sergeant first class, 1,307 to staff sergeant
and 2,275 to sergeant.

Promotions to sergeant will come from a pool of 16,466 eligible
corporals and specialists, and advancements to staff sergeant from a
group of 16,280 promotable sergeants.

2. Stop-loss and dwell time
The thorn of stop-loss and stop-move policies that has been sticking
soldiers since the beginning of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq isn't
going away anytime soon, according to the Army's senior personnel

Maj. Gen. Sean Byrne, commander of the Human Resources Command, said
in a Dec. 22 interview at HRC headquarters in Alexandria, Va., that
senior leaders want to reduce, if not eliminate, the policies that
keep soldiers beyond their voluntary separation and retirement dates.

"However, I think there will be a lot of pressure to keep stop-loss
and stop-move in effect until the number of troops deployed overseas
is reduced," Byrne said. About 7,000 soldiers are serving on active
duty beyond their scheduled separation dates.

Byrne said the success of recruiting and retention has provided some relief.

"When the war started we had 480,000 soldiers, and today we have
545,000 soldiers in the force," he said.

That puts the Army within 2,000 soldiers of meeting its expansion goal
of 547,400 one year ahead of schedule.

Byrne cautioned that there are a variety of issues that adversely
affect the manpower equation.

In addition to the uncertain status of stop-loss soldiers, the Army
has 6,000 to 7,000 wounded warriors in transition units who are not
available for operational assignments, even though they are carried on
the active-duty rolls.

Many of the soldiers being added to the force under the Grow the Army
program are being assigned to brigade combat teams of 3,500 to 4,000
soldiers each.

Active component force structure currently has 43 BCTs that either are
fully manned or in the process of being built.

Byrne, whose organization is responsible for manning these units, said
three additional brigades will start building at about this time next

The goal is to have 48 fully manned BCTs by 2012.

Officials said that as these units are added to the force, the Army
will be able to increase the time soldiers spend at home station
between deployments. Called "dwell time," soldiers currently average
about 12 months at home for every 12 months deployed.

Officials expect that as more brigades become available for
operational assignments, dwell time throughout the Army will increase
to 24 months, and eventually 36 months.

Meanwhile, Congress and President Bush have signed off on payouts of
up to $500 per month this year to soldiers extended under stop-loss.
The actual cutting of checks awaits the Army setting a specific amount
of the check and review by a congressional panel. As the plan stands
now, the payouts won't be retroactive. Also, the special pay plan is
set to expire at the end of this fiscal year.

3. Officer incentives
Regarding officers, the Army may offer a new round of officer
retention incentives in 2009, but likely without the huge cash bonuses
of the past 18 months.

Results of the two-phase captain retention program that ended Nov. 30
are being evaluated to determine retention strategy for the new year,
according to Paul Aswell, chief of the officer policy division in the
Office of the G-1 at the Pentagon.

The target population for the bonus-laden retention campaign launched
in September 2007 included 23,000 captains from the basic line
branches, the Medical Service Corps and Nurse Corps.

Incentives included critical skill retention bonuses of $25,000,
$30,000 and $30,000, respectively, along with graduate school
attendance and certain assignment and training opportunities.

The program was started as a temporary measure to bolster retention
among officers in year groups 1999-2005. Included in the ongoing force
expansion are requirements for an additional 9,000 officers, most of
them captains and majors.

Under a pre-commissioning program that began in 2006, more than 4,100
high-potential West Point and Reserve Officer Training Corps
scholarship cadets have agreed to service extensions in return for
branch of choice, assignment and advanced schooling guarantees.

Aswell said these additional service commitments will significantly
increase the number of officers who will remain on active duty through
at least their eighth year of service.

Officer Candidate School will remain a major source of new officers in
2009, with the 12-week OCS course at Fort Benning, Ga., projected to
commission about 1,700 second lieutenants.

However, the Army will tighten educational requirements for in-service
enlisted soldiers and warrant officers seeking commissions. Aswell
said the Army will implement a policy in 2009 that will require
in-service OCS applicants to have a baccalaureate degree.

Under current policy, applicants must have at least 90 semester hours
of college credits that lead toward a degree.

"Soldiers who want to go to OCS but who don't have a four-year degree
should apply as soon as they can, because the policy will change,"
Aswell said.

Also, the Army Competitive Category major board, previously scheduled
for April, has been moved forward to January, which should make nearly
2,000 newly promoted majors available to fill O-4 positions in
brigades and other units later in the year.

To support that change, the Army will accelerate the promotion
"pin-on" point for major from 9½ years to about nine years, and for
captain from 38 month to 37 months.

The later change will generate 400 to 500 additional captains for 2009.

4. Personnel system delays
If you were looking forward to the new joint service pay and personnel
system for active and reserve soldiers, it won't start March 1 as

The Army said it doesn't have a new date to start the Defense
Integrated Military Human Resources System.

This is the fifth time since 2006 that the deployment of DIMHRS has
been delayed, according to a report on system problems issued by the
Government Accountability Office.

"DIMHRS is undergoing a systems acceptance test, and the program
clearly is not where it should be for a March 1 fielding," said Byrne
of Human Resources Command.

"We want a fully functional pay and personnel system," Byrne said of
the system that is designed to replace 70 Army management and data

DIMHRS uses a commercial software product, PeopleSoft, that was
developed for civilian business applications, and has been slightly
modified for military use.

"This is the largest automation project the Army, Defense Department
and probably the United States, has ever undertaken," Byrne said.

5. Full-spectrum ops training
Units coming back from deployments to Iraq or Afghanistan should be
prepared for a return to training for major combat operations — at
least on simulators.

The December release of FM 7-0, "Training for Full Spectrum
Operations," launched an overhaul in the Army's approach to training
by including stability operations on par with offensive and defensive

Training for counterinsurgency conflicts, such as those in Afghanistan
and Iraq, will continue as long as those wars do. But Army Chief of
Staff Gen. George W. Casey has set a goal of getting soldiers back to
training in major combat ops as soon as units have a minimum of 18
months' dwell time.

The first exercise will involve at least one brigade that is between
war-zone rotations and will take place this summer in a simulated
environment, said Brig. Gen. Robert "Abe" Abrams, deputy commander of
training at the Combined Arms Center.

The location hasn't been determined.

He described the return of major combat operations training as a
"re-kindling of skill sets that we have to perform differently in
major combat operations versus an irregular war environment."

Abrams projected that the earliest the Army expects a brigade to be
able to conduct a full-scale major combat ops rotation at one of the
combat training centers would be sometime in 2010.

6. New PT manual in the works
A new physical training manual that links soldier fitness and the
demands of combat and long deployments is in the final review process
and likely will be available toward the end of the year.

The new manual will contain dozens of fitness regimens for the
garrison environment as well as regimens with mobile equipment, such
as dumbbells, that a soldier could use during a deployment.

The workouts are aimed at conditioning soldiers for the missions and
tasks they perform every day, rather than getting them in shape for
the semiannual Army Physical Fitness Test.

The PT test — which has remained unchanged since it first appeared in
1980 — will stay the same for now.

Push-ups and sit-ups will continue to be part of PT, but sprinting and
walking will be recommended over distance running.

Some sets require soldiers to exercise in their Army Combat Uniforms,
wearing body armor and helmets with rifles slung across their backs.
The exercises are designed to build the strength and flexibility
soldiers need for the jobs they do; perhaps to dash 50 yards in full
battle gear and jump a low wall, or to endure the twisting and balance
of manning a gun turret.

7. Push for M4 replacement
The maker of the Army's M4 carbine, Colt Defense LLC, will hand over
the weapon's technical data rights to the Army in June, a step that
could lead to a new weapon for the service.

By late summer, the Army is scheduled to approve a revised carbine
requirement document that was ordered by Army Secretary Pete Geren in

This represents a significant course reversal for the Army. Until
recently, senior officials have maintained that the M4 is a
"world-class weapon" and saw no reason to consider anything new.

But for more than a year, the M4 has been the subject of increased
scrutiny from lawmakers on Capitol Hill concerned about whether
soldiers have the best available weapon. The scrutiny intensified in
late November of 2007 when the weapon finished last in an Army
reliability test against other carbines. The M4 suffered more
stoppages than the combined number of jams by the other three
competitors: the Heckler & Koch XM8; FNH USA's Special Operations
Forces Combat Assault Rifle, or SCAR; and the H&K 416.

One year later, the Army held a small arms industry day in November
that attracted 19 companies eager to compete for the chance to make
the service's next weapon. The event was the result of a "request for
information" the service put out in August.

Provided that the new carbine requirement is approved, the Army could
issue a formal request for proposals for a new carbine to gun makers
in late 2009.

8. Language skills check
Soldiers have been ordered by the Army to divulge their foreign
language skills after a voluntary survey designed to assess the number
of soldiers who speak a foreign language failed to produce enough
participants. By March 15, all active, National Guard and Reserve
soldiers, even those who only speak English, must complete an online
foreign language self-assessment, according to a Dec. 19 All Army
Activity message. Describing foreign language skills as "critical war
fighting enablers in the twenty-first century," the message directs
field commanders to ensure mandatory participation in the one-time
assessment. The language survey was posted on the front page of Army
Knowledge Online earlier this year in response to a directive from the
Office of the Secretary of Defense. With less than 10 percent
participating, the ALARACT message says the voluntary survey has not
been completed to the satisfaction of the Defense Department.

A November report by the House Armed Services' subcommittee on
oversight and investigations found that only a small portion of
service members were proficient in the cultural and language skills
critical to success in Iraq and Afghanistan. It also found that until
recently, no comprehensive effort had been made to tackle the issue.
The mandatory survey is designed to identify those in the ranks who
have existing foreign language skills. Soldiers found to have a high
proficiency in certain languages may be eligible for foreign language
proficiency bonuses and will be recommended to take the defense
language proficiency test to document that ability. Soldiers who have
already taken the survey do not need to take it again.

9. Overhaul GI Bill
One of the biggest advances in veterans' benefits since World War II
takes effect Aug. 1, when the flat-rate GI Bill transforms overnight
into a plan that pays full tuition plus stipends for housing and books
for most students.

Making the plan even more attractive is the possibility that career
members with at least 10 years of service could be allowed to transfer
their unused benefits to their immediate family. That makes the new
benefit a big reward for active-duty and mobilized National Guard and
reserve members and a big recruiting and retention incentive that
could ease worries about future personnel shortages.

Many questions remain about how the new Post-9/11 GI Bill will work,
but the most important is whether the Veterans Affairs Department will
be ready by Aug. 1 to make payments in the face of what could be a
landslide of claims.

The new GI Bill, for people who have served 30 days or longer on
active duty since Sept. 11, 2001, will provide tuition payments
directly to the school that are up to the cost of the most expensive
four-year public college or university in the state where the veteran
is matriculating.

When private-school tuition exceeds that of the costliest public
school, students could get additional help if the school and VA agree
to give grants under which the government will match whatever tuition
discount a school is willing to make.

The housing stipend will be equal to the Basic Allowance for Housing
rate for an E-5 living in the school's ZIP code. The book allowance
will be $1,000 a year.

While rates will vary from state to state for tuition and from school
to school for the housing allowance, the average benefit will be worth
about $80,000 for four years of college education.

10. More family leave
Two changes in the Family and Medical Leave Act aimed directly at
military families will take full effect in 2009, expanding unpaid
leave for some family members.

One change allows up to 26 weeks of time off for family members to
care for their severely injured service member. The leave, available
only while the injured member is still in service, applies to spouses,
children, parents, grandparents, siblings or other blood relatives who
serve as caretakers.

More than one family member can use caregiver leave.

The second change applies to families of National Guard and reserve
troops, who can receive up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for a variety
of deployment-related reasons, including taking time off for vacation
if a mobilized reservist gets rest and relaxation leave during a

Families of active-duty troops do not qualify.

For both new military additions to the FMLA, eligible employees are
those who work full-time, at least 1,250 hours in the last 12 months,
and at a location where a minimum of 50 workers are employed within 75

The new policies represent a major expansion of FMLA, which
traditionally applied to immediate family members and has been limited
to just 12 weeks.

It is unclear if the omission of active-duty families from
deployment-related leave was deliberate or an oversight by Congress,
but it has prompted swift complaints from active-duty families because
they have the same deployment issues.

Under the policy for Guard and reserve families, time off without
penalty is provided if a service member gets less than seven days'
notice to deploy, or to attend military-related events such as
briefings, arrange emergency child care or school activities, take
care of financial or legal business, take deployment-related
counseling, or take part in arrival ceremonies when the reservist
returns and post-deployment events.

11. Moving household goods
Moving should be a lot less hassle for military personnel and their
families with the worldwide rollout of an overhauled system for moving
household goods that has been in the works for more than 15 years.

Defense officials finally expect to take the new Defense Personal
Property Program global in early February. A partial rollout, dubbed
DP3, launched in 17 locations in November.

One big change will affect service members and defense civilians: The
program automatically will assign the best-qualified moving company
available at that time, replacing a system based on low bids.

Perhaps most significantly, it gives full replacement value when
household goods are lost or damaged, a feature that is mandated by law
and has been in effect for more than a year in most places.

For decades, service members and families have complained about lost
and damaged personal property, scanty reimbursement based on
depreciated value rather than replacement cost, a cumbersome claims
process and other problems.

The new system allows government and industry to handle items such as
online rate solicitation, traffic distribution, tracking and
management of shipments, invoice processing, claims handling and
performance evaluations.

Under the new system, invoices can be processed in days rather than
weeks, officials say.

12. War shift
The year turns with about 143,000 U.S. troops in Iraq and another
31,000 in Afghanistan. But despite the new agreement to have all U.S.
troops out of Iraq by the end of 2011, Iraq's not yet on the
downslope, officials say. The numbers there will rise again over the
short term and although one Army unit slated for Iraq duty was
diverted to Afghanistan — a move the Marines would like to emulate on
a broader scale — don't look for a dramatic, immediate follow-on shift
of troop strength from one country to the other.

But troop strength in Afghanistan is directly tied to force levels in
Iraq, Adm. Mike Mullen said in Afghanistan on Dec. 20, and as many as
30,000 more troops could find themselves in Afghanistan by next
summer. U.S. officials had already been planning to send by next fall
at least four more brigade-sized infantry units, combat "enablers" and
a combat aviation brigade requested by Gen. David McKiernan, the top
coalition general in Afghanistan, in order to better tackle a
resurgent Taliban.

In addition, Defense Secretary Robert Gates has expressed misgivings
about building too large a force, telling troops in Iraq on Dec. 14,
"at a certain point, we get such a big footprint we begin to look like
an occupier, and not the ally and supporter of the Afghans."

Only two units — the 3rd Brigade, 10th Mountain Division, and the 82nd
Combat Aviation Brigade, 82nd Airborne Division, have so far been
identified for deployment.

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