Army Deployments History and Today

Silhouette of soldiers near helicopter in desert landscape

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When considering which branch of the military to join, there are a lot of factors to weigh. One of the most important things for many new recruits, especially those with families or planning to start families is how often and for how long he or she may be deployed. In most jobs in any branch of service you will deploy. However, to some that is an issue. For instance, immediately after September 11, 2001, many joined the branch of service that was going to deploy as quickly as possible. Many found that their desires were answered very quickly in the Army.

After 18 years of near constant deployment cycles, all the services are stressed and the Army has given many of their soldiers the deployment downrange that they wanted and more. For the past ten years, dealing with the high operational tempo (OPTEMPO), the Army has gone from 18 month deployments, to 15 month deployments, to 12 month deployments, to 9 month deployments, to six month deployment cycles. Soldiers are eligible for two weeks leave after a six month period within a 12+ month deployment. The Army is trying to reduce the deployment lengths to the 6-9 month zone, but it depends on the unit, mission, and the needs of the Army at the time.

Soldiers Deploy Frequently

The separation of deployment can take a toll on family members and is particularly difficult for parents of young children. So it's not a decision to be undertaken hastily. Something to consider is the time in the field training prior to deploying. That is also time away from home that can add up to several months in the course of a year prior to deployment. Another form of separation is the "unaccompanied tour" to bases overseas that may last 18 months without your family. That too depends on the situation and living conditions for family members. The worse case scenario would be going to an unaccompanied tour for 18 months then joining a unit that is set to deploy for a year just as you moved back with your family in the United States. Now, this does not happen often, but it has before and can again.

Soldiers on active duty in the Army deploy more than any other branch, with the possible exception of the Navy (although most Navy deployments are on ships at sea). How often you deploy depends on whether the U.S. is involved in any ongoing conflicts. Deployment is also heavily determined by your Army job.

For example, a combat job, such as infantry, or armor, would deploy more often than an administrative job, such as finance clerk, or legal specialist. Keep in mind that administrative jobs do deploy, just not quite as often as combat or combat support jobs.

The average Army deployment rate can range from 12 months deployed, followed by 12 months at home station assignment, to 12 months deployed, 24 months at home. The Army


It’s worth noting that the Army has made more use than other branches of the "stop-loss" program, which means they keep soldiers beyond their normal separation date if they have been scheduled for a deployment. This is affected by a variety of factors but mostly has to do with a shortage of personnel in a given geographic area, a shortage of personnel in a particular job, or escalation of a conflict requiring additional soldiers.

Why the Army Deploys Soldiers So Often

The oldest of all U.S. military branches, the Army was established by the Continental Congress on June 14, 1775. Before Sept. 11, 2001, the Army was organized for large-scale deployments, mostly of mechanized divisions of upwards of 15,000 soldiers each. It was time-consuming to deploy such large forces and difficult to do so in a timely fashion. The Marines were the branch typically called upon when a situation required deployment on short notice. 

But the Army reorganized its forces into brigade combat teams (BCTs) of a few thousand soldiers, with brigade support battalions (BSBs) serving as combat support. By 2007, the Army had reorganized to 42 BCTs and 75 BSBs. This new focus on making the Army more nimble has allowed for more frequent deployments.

Impact of Deployment on Families

The Army offers families a family separation allowance, payable to the dependents of soldiers who will be deployed for 30 days or longer. Known as an involuntary separation, the allowance is intended to alleviate the financial burden of having the soldier away from his or her family for long periods.

If you're considering joining the Army, take into account how much time you may spend away from home. Be sure you can handle the responsibility before taking the plunge.