The Pentagon is implementing a new “deploy or out” policy that could affect up to 286,000 US service members who are currently not considered fit to deploy.
Defense officials say that the decision, which could force thousands out of the US military, is meant to fulfill Defense Secretary Jim Mattis’s mandate to improve the lethality of the US military by ensuring all troops are “worldwide deployable.”
“You’re either deployable, or you need to find something else to do. I’m not going have some people deploying constantly and then other people who seem to not pay that price in the US military,” Mattis told reporters Saturday on the flight back to Washington, DC, from meetings in Europe.
Under his leadership, the US military will “have a higher expectation of deployability by our forces,” he said, framing it as a question of fairness.
“Some people are carrying more than the share of the load that I want them to carry,” Mattis said. “They need time at home. They need time with their families."
The new policy would affect service members who have been nondeployable for a year or more. At that point, they would be processed to be separated from the US military, or referred to the disability evaluation system.
“This new policy is a 12-month deploy or be removed policy,” Robert Wilkie, the undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, told the Senate Armed Services subcommittee on personnel and readiness last week.
“The situation we face today is really unlike anything that we have faced, certainly in the post World War II era,” he said. “On any given day, about 13 to 14 percent of the force is medically unable to deploy...We must address those hard facts, or the force will break."
That comes out to be around 286,000 soldiers, he said, likening it to Jeff Bezos walking into Amazon on Christmas week and finding that 14 percent of the workforce could not perform their duties.
Military services will have until Oct. 1 to begin the mandatory processing of service members who are not deployable, according to Patricia Mulcahy, who heads the Pentagon’s officer and enlisted personnel management office.
The military bureaucracy is a part of the problem, Pentagon officials admitted to lawmakers. Delays to get immunizations or annual dental and medical checkups, or lagging training and fitness programs are to blame for some of the nondeployable troops’ status, they said. The focus will be on getting as many service members as possible to deployable status, not weed them out, they said.
But another big issue has been that, as a result of the recruiting difficulty the US military has faced in recent years, they have offered too many medical waivers to get into the armed forces.
“The medical conditions that those service members had when they received those waivers follow them into the service as they progress through their careers,” Wilkie said. “In this world where…we are struggling to maintain the ranks, we need to get a grip on this.”
There are exceptions to the new policy. It does not apply to service members who can’t deploy because they are pregnant or suffering from postpartum conditions, according to defense officials. Roughly 20,000 service members of the more than 280,000 are currently nondeployable because of pregnancy.
As for those wounded in combat, a medical board will have to review their status.
“If they were wounded in combat, and they want to stay in and they've lost their leg or something like this, and they can't be a paratrooper anymore, then we'll find a place to use them,” Mattis said Saturday. “That's a special category. They've earned that special status.”
The US Army reduced the nondeployable personnel from 15% in June 2016 to 11% in December 2017, according to Army Lt. Gen. Thomas Seamands, the deputy chief of staff. Continuing to reduce this nondeployable group is a priority for the service, he said.