Beyond the Call of Duty

A Comprehensive Review of the Overuse of the Army in the Administration's War of Choice in Iraq

Lawrence Korb, Peter Rundlet, and Max Bergmann provide a review of the overuse of the Army in the administration's war of choice in Iraq.

Read the full report (PDF)

Four years ago this month, President Bush led our country into a war of choice against Iraq. Today, there are 135,000 American troops in Iraq and the president is now escalating this war, proposing to send an additional 30,000 combat and support troops. In addition to the costs in American lives and treasure, this war now places an enormous strain on our all-volunteer Army, stretching it to the breaking point.

But how bad is it overall? Although there has been much public debate about the overall readiness of the Army, only anecdotal evidence has been reported in the press. A composite picture is needed to inform that debate, and in fact this information should be readily available from the Department of Defense. But when the Center for American Progress approached the Pentagon our researchers were told this information is “classified” (the quotation marks were added by Defense Department officials)—even though this information is known by the families of individual troops deployed abroad.

In response, the National Security Team at the Center undertook a massive research project to identify, brigade by brigade, the number and duration of deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan by the active Army. Our research team compiled the following facts through an extensive review of available information about individual brigade deployments in local news reports and elsewhere. Although we have high confidence that the information presented is accurate, we openly acknowledge that some pieces of information may be inaccurate or incomplete.

Possible errors or discrepancies could not be helped given the nature of the task and the fact that some brigades have changed designations or name since the war began due to the ongoing transformation of the Army. We have no doubt, however, that the overall picture of strain and fatigue that emerges is accurate. We expect to maintain and update this database and welcome corrections and additions from those who have more complete information.

The facts summarized below, and in our underlying data, reflect what we were able to learn. In some cases, the bottom-line totals would be worse if we had complete information (for instance, we could only count the tour extensions that we uncovered; very likely there are more). It is also important

to note that our research focused on the combat brigades of the active Army, not the deployments of other services such as the Marines, the Air Force, the Navy, and the National Guard and Reserves. We have no doubt that many of these services have units that have also been overtaxed by this war.

As our full report describes in great detail, beginning on page 7, the focus of our research revolved around the concept of readiness for combat troops. Readiness requires:

  • Personnel: Readiness requires that a given unit has an adequate number of personnel, that the personnel are appropriately trained using the equipment they will use in battle. Moreover, Army policy recommends that after serving 12 months in theater, troops come home to recuperate and retrain for 24 months before being returned to theater.
  • Training: Readiness requires that Army troops are adequately trained to perform the duties they will be assigned to perform in theater and will be trained on the equipment they will use in combat.
  • Equipment: Readiness requires that troops have a sufficient supply of appropriate equipment for combat and that the equipment be in good working order.

Alas, the active Army today is recklessly stretched far beyond recommended use, ultimately hurting our troops and dangerously depriving our country of the strategic reserves necessary to respond to true crises. The administration has done this for four years now in a war of choice. Here is a snapshot of the current state of our 41 combat brigades and three Cavalry Regiments in the active Army.

  • Of the Army’s 44 combat brigades today, all but the First Brigade of the Second Infantry Division, which is permanently based in South Korea, have served at least one tour. Of the remaining 43:

– 12 Brigades have had one tour in Iraq or Afghanistan

– 20 Brigades have had two tours in Iraq or Afghanistan

– 9 Brigades with three tours in Iraq or Afghanistan

– 2 Brigades with four tours in Iraq or Afghanistan

  • Army policy recommends that after 12 months of deployment in a war zone, combat troops should come home for 24 months for recuperation and retraining before returning to combat. The Army has been forced to violate this policy many times.
  • Army policy recommends that troops return home after 12 months of deployment in a war zone. Due to overextension, the Army has been forced to violate this policy many times.
  • Because each brigade has ongoing rotations of individual troops, the fact that a given brigade has deployed three or four times does not necessarily mean that a particular soldier has also deployed that many times. Nonetheless, the number of troops that have served in Iraq—and who have served more than one tour—is staggering:

– 1.4 million military (Army and other service) troops have served in Iraq or Afghanistan; 650,000 Army soldiers have been deployed to these countries

– More than 420,000 troops have deployed more than once; 170,000 Army soldiers have been deployed more than once

– 169,558 Marines have deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan more than once

– More than 410,000 National Guard and Reservists have been deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan since 2001, for an average of 18 months per mobilization; of these, more than 84,00 have been deployed more than once

– Stop-loss (a policy that prevents troops whose enlistment end date has arrived from leaving) has been imposed on over 50,000 troops

There is a clear cost on the troops as a result of the multiple deployments:

– An Army survey revealed that soldiers are 50 percent more likely to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder if they serve more than one tour.

– The suicide rate among troops deployed to Iraq hit an all-time high in 2006

In the analysis that follows, the incredible strain of all of these repeat deployments on our men and women in uniform reveals just how misguided the president’s escalation strategy in Iraq truly is for our all-volunteer Army. It is clear, after crunching the numbers, that the president’s strategy is beyond the call of duty.


The positions of American Progress, and our policy experts, are independent, and the findings and conclusions presented are those of American Progress alone. A full list of supporters is available here. American Progress would like to acknowledge the many generous supporters who make our work possible.


Lawrence J. Korb

Senior Fellow

Max Bergmann

Former Senior Fellow

Peter Juul

Former Senior Policy Analyst