updated 10/18/2006 4:33:52 PM ET 2006-10-18T20:33:52

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld has approved an unannounced Marine Corps plan to recall to active duty and send back to Iraq at least some Marine Reserve combat battalions that have already served one tour there, officials said Wednesday.

This would be the first time that reserve combat battalions — units of several hundred troops each — would be sent to Iraq for a second tour, although other types of reserve units and many active-duty units have done multiple tours.

The Army, which is organized differently than the Marine Corps, has not sent any of its National Guard combat brigades back to Iraq for a second tour, although it is considering making more use of the Guard.

The return of Marine Reserve combat battalions to Iraq would begin in 2008, according to a senior Marine officer who discussed the subject on condition that he not be identified because no official announcement has been made. Thus, the first picked to go back probably would be remobilized next year in order to train for the mission.

Rumsfeld on Tuesday verbally approved to the plan, which was put forward by Gen. Michael Hagee, the Marine commandant, according to Lt. Col. Scott Fazekas, a Marine Corps spokesman. Fazekas said that Gen. Peter Pace, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, approved the plan in September.

The Marines have decided to take this unexpected step in order to alleviate a problem that both the Marines and the Army are wrestling with as the Iraq war rages on unabated: wear-and-tear on the active-duty troops, who are getting far less time at home to recuperate and retrain than military leaders would like.

Morale not the only issue
Those short respites between combat tours are not only a morale issue but also an obstacle to providing soldiers and Marines with sufficiently varied training and adequate time to attend professional development schools.

To increase the amount of time between deployments, the Marines have decided to make more use of their reserve combat battalions, of which there are nine. The main restriction the Marine Corps faces is a 24-month limit on the amount of time a reservist can be mobilized, so those who were on active duty for more than 12 months the first time will not be remobilized, since the planned mobilizations would be for 12 months, Fazekas said.

The Marines have not yet decided which of the nine Marine Reserve battalions will be the first to be recalled for another tour in Iraq, Fazekas said.

He said officials would examine which battalion is best prepared for a second combat tour, based on the number of Marine reserves in its ranks who are still eligible for mobilization, the condition of the unit’s equipment, the state of its training and other factors.

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