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Combat Tour Lengths - A Rough Comparison

A man named John Paul Vann, Veteran of Korea and Vietnam, once had this to say, ""We don’t have twelve years’ experience in Vietnam. We have one year’s experience twelve times over"

He was referring to the one-year combat tour length that prevailed during Vietnam and one which roughly continues today in Iraq and Afghanistan. Mr. Vann's position was that the United States basically started the Vietnam War over every single year due to a change in personnel rotating in and out.

Is there a parallel here with the U.S. Global War on Terror? Right now that answer is unknown.

Let us compare some combat tour lengths in some of those last major wars that America has been involved in.

For Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) and Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) combat tour lengths for the U.S. Army have gone from 12 to 15 and back to 12 months again. Our Marines serve 6-7 months tours. The Air Force initially has served 4-month tours (dating back to 1991 and the Persian Gulf War) but now has seen 4/6/8/and 12-month tours served depending upon service In Lieu Of (ILO) Army forces. The Navy typically serves 6-7 months tours and also supports ILO programs.

Back in the days of the Vietnam War, Army forces served a 12-month tour. It should be noted that Officers completed twelve months tours, with only six months spent in combat in charge of troops. The Marines served 6-month tours, but were given incentives to served 13-month tours. The Navy and Air Force had similar tour lengths.

During the Korean War, services member who were drafted served 24 months, but with training, etc. most did not spend this long in the combat zone.

In World War II, service members served for the duration. If a soldier enlisted at the beginning of the war and survived, that soldier would have served the whole period of the war.

What's the best length of tour for combat?

That answer certainly depends upon whom you ask. The infantry soldier with a family at home is good to go after six months. The Generals running the show see the efficacy of longer tours in support of current Counter Insurgency facts and theory.

One thing that is apparent. Shorter tours ultimately equal more tours total. Longer tours = less overall tours in the long run.

Who's right?

Only time will tell, and a comparison between the effects of combat tour length on Army vs. Marine personnel will have to be evaluated down the road. Not to discount the contributions of Air Force and Navy personnel, far from it, this editor is looking at a total numbers perspective.

How long was your tour? How many tours did you complete?

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