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New Army policy gives some nondeployable soldiers six months to overcome issues

U.S. Army trainees assigned to Foxtrot, 1st Battalion, 34th Infantry Regiment run to the company area on the first day of basic combat training on June 12, 2017 at Fort Jackson, South Carolina. (Sgt. Philip McTaggart/U.S. Army)

The Army no longer must wait until soldiers have been in a nondeployable status for one year to dismiss them from the service, under new guidelines developed from the Pentagon’s so-called “deploy or get out” policy.

The service on Tuesday rolled out its long-awaited new policy governing soldiers serving in a nondeployable status, announcing troops who cannot deploy for any administrative reason must fix it within six months or they will be forced from the service, according to the new policy outlined in a Nov. 8 memorandum from Army Secretary Mark Esper.

“We must have a deployable and fit culture in the Army,” Esper wrote in the memo. “Our nation deserves no less.”

The new policy follows Defense Secretary Jim Mattis’ order in February that all the military services develop guidelines to address growing rates of nondeployable servicemembers across the force. Mattis’ order sought to remove troops who remained nondeployable for a variety of reasons — including medical conditions, fitness problems or administrative failures — for more than a year. Last month, Pentagon officials said Mattis’ policy was already working, announcing the military had seen a reduction of about 100,000 nondeployable troops since February.

Commanders who determine that soldiers classified as nondeployable for administrative reasons are unlikely to resolve their issues within six months can begin the separation process immediately, according to the Army policy. It was not clear Tuesday how many soldiers would be removed from the service through the new policy, said Maj. Gen. Joseph Calloway, the service’s military personnel management director. He estimated about 10,000 soldiers were listed now as nondeployable for administrative reasons.

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Likewise, soldiers with a permanent medical condition that impacts their ability to perform their jobs will be referred to the Disability Evaluation System, which will determine whether they can remain in the Army, according to the policy.

The Army has reduced its number of nondeployable soldiers since the Pentagon mandated the services develop their own guidelines. Last fall, the Army reported about 121,000 nondeployable soldiers, or about 15 percent of the force, across active-duty units, the National Guard and the reserves. That tally dropped to about 59,000 as of November, Calloway said.

The reduction is primarily due to the Army’s changing view on who is considered nondeployable. For example, the service no longer considers soldiers nondeployable simply for missing a yearly medical or dental exam, though soldiers are still required to receive those exams.

“That is a huge jump,” Calloway told reporters Tuesday at the Pentagon. “… We considered every single one of those soldiers who had not gotten their medical exam nondeployable, when we knew in fact that over 90 percent of them were deployable. So, we were overly conservative in the way we reported those.”

About 80 percent of the soldiers who remain categorized as nondeployable are so for medical reasons. Some of the soldiers with medical issues are exempt from the policy, such as troops injured in combat and others who are pregnant or on maternity leave.

The policy changes reflect the Army’s attempt to change the service’s culture to ensure soldiers want to remain deployable, Calloway said. The guidelines for the first time explicitly defines what makes soldiers deployable, he said.

The new policy defines soldiers who are deployable as:

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Soldiers who are cleared to work in “any environment in which the Army is operating or could operate,” such as austere areas with extreme heat, cold or attitude

Soldiers who can carry and employ an assigned weapon

Soldiers capable of executing all tasks required of their job or mission

Soldiers who can operate while wearing full body armor, helmet, eye protection, gloves and equipment to protect against chemical or biological hazards

Soldiers capable of passing the Army Physical Fitness Test or meeting the specific physical demands of the tasks required for the deployment.

Commanders in the rank of colonel or higher can exempt soldiers from one or more of those categories, the policy states.

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© 2018 the Stars and Stripes

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