WASHINGTON – Not all soldiers were surprised to learn that the Pentagon has decided to expand deployments in Iraq from 12 months to 15 months, though many who are speaking up say they were a little taken aback by the sudden nature of the announcement.
Because of a leak out of the Pentagon, Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced publicly on Wednesday that Army soldiers now in Iraq will be staying there longer and those not yet deployed will go for a longer length of time. The news came before the military could announce the decision to its own troops.
But several soldiers, hearing the news on Thursday, took it in stride.
"Those of us 'in the business' of managing the force knew that this decision — or one equally painful — was made inevitable by the 'surge,'" one officer wrote to FOX News. "Given the small size of the Army/USMC, I think there were enough of us who foresaw this that there were very few people surprised by the decision."
"I think some of them had counted on this from the beginning. I think most of them have resigned themselves to soldiering on and getting the job done. I think most of them will take it day by day and I don't think there will be a lot of complaining and grief over this announcement," said Lt. Col. Wilson A. Shoffner, who commands the 2-319 Airborne Field Artillery 82nd Airborne Division.
Despite the expectations, many senior military officers still have unanswered questions, such as whether their troops' $1,000 per month of extra compensation would be tax-free. The short answer from the Army on Thursday was yes, except for officers above the rank of lieutenant colonel whose income tax rate already excludes them.
Some troops said the longer tours may even be useful in helping units with intelligence gathering. It takes a few months, they note, to get familiar with new territory and make contacts.
"As hard to swallow or understand as it might be, longer deployments really, for the type of work we're doing, are far better than short ones ... this isn't a fistfight. This is a marathon or a relay race," wrote Sgt. Maj. Jeffrey Mellinger, the senior enlisted adviser to Gen. David Petraeus, head of the Multinational Forces in Iraq.
Despite the seeming acceptance of the decision on the part of the troops, one architect of the current surge strategy said while the added expertise may help, the benefit could be outweighed by damaged troop morale.
"There are trade-offs in terms of the knowledge that the troops have gained of their areas and how to operate and the expertise that they bring," said American Enterprise Institute scholar Frederick Kagan. "Certainly they will be fighting with greater understanding of what they need to do. Against that you have set the morale problem and the sheer exhaustion that sets in from having to do this. ... It's not something you would do if you had other options."
The Army's Deputy Chief of Staff, Gen. James J. Lovelace Jr., said morale shouldn't be a problem since no soldier volunteers for just one year.
"Every kid who has joined the Army volunteered since 9/11," Lovelace said. "They know what they are getting into."
"There is only one person that we've not been able to re-enlist and he is still working out the contract issues but everybody else that's up for re-enlistment has re-enlisted in my platoon," said First Lt. Larry Pitts, also of the Army's 2-319 Airborne Field Artillery 82nd Airborne Division.
FOX News' Jennifer Griffin and The Associated Press contributed to this report.