A day after Defense Secretary Jim Mattis' “deploy or get out” policy took effect, DoD added a new warning for the 126,000 service members who currently are not up to standard: You may not have the full 12 months to get back into fighting shape.

A commander “is not required to wait 12 months,” said Patricia Mulcahy, the Pentagon’s director of officer and enlisted personnel management.

In February, the Pentagon released policy guidelines to the services, which said service members who have been in non-deployable status for 12 consecutive months, for any reason, could be processed for administrative separation starting Oct. 1.

DoD tweaked that policy in its July implementing guidelines, exempting pregnant, post-partum and combat-wounded troops.

Mulcahy said that in the months before the policy took effect, the services practiced reporting how many non-deployable forces they had each month. Since then, the Defense Department has worked on standardizing the reporting, recognizing that each service uses different terminology and standards to determine if a service member was deployable.

For example, the Navy uses the terms “limited duty” or “light duty,” while the Army uses “on profile” to describe service members who can not deploy, Mulcahy said, and it took awhile for the department to reconcile the terms. In addition, because of the way the Navy deploys — often with full medical facilities on their bigger platforms — a health condition that might sideline a soldier does not necessarily sideline a sailor, Mulcahy said.

Now, “we are tracking at the department level month-to-month,” Mulcahey said. “All of the services are tracking in some shape or form.”

The services are required to do the tracking themselves, and it is up to each service to notify service members when they enter a non-deployable status, Mulcahy said. How the services notify their forces is up to each service, she said.

“There’s not going to be department-level notification to members,” Mulcahy said.

Each service is required to meet a goal of having no more than 5 percent of its total active duty, reserve and National Guard forces non-deployable within the next two years, said Mike Melillo, deputy director for force management in the office of personnel management. Melillo said some services have already met that goal, but he would not identify which ones, nor would he identify which services have not met the goal.

Just the introduction of the policy, first reported by Military Times in February, has had the effect of getting people back to deployability, he said.

The early 2018 announcement “shined a bright light of the secretary’s interest in this issue,” Melillo said, which drove service and command attention.

Since then, “we’ve seen some of these readiness numbers, these non-deployable numbers come down. It achieves the intended effect of [Mattis' policy.]"

In January, DoD reported that approximately 11 percent of its total reserve, active duty and National Guard force, or 235,000 personnel, were non-deployable. That number dropped to approximately 149,000 by July. Military Times learned Monday that as of Aug. 31, there were 126,000 non-deployable personnel.

That number fluctuates on a daily basis as some personnel get off the list, while others get on, Mulcahy said.

Even though the initial policy focused on service members who were non-deployable for 12 consecutive months and said they would begin to be processed for separation, there’s nothing in the policy from stopping the services from beginning that process earlier with their non-deployable forces, Mulcahy said.

“It’s not like we’re waiting for 12 months,” Mulcahy said.

Service members will be able to appeal a separation, she said.

“Members will be afforded all of the rights and rebuttals that are currently in their service policies,” Mulcahy said.

Mulcahy gave two examples where separation proceedings could begin without a service member having the full 12 months to address an issue. For example, “if that commander told an individual to get their family care plan together," i.e., who will take care of their dependents while overseas, “if after that, the member does not come forward with their plan, separating proceedings could be started,” Mulcahy said.

Non-combat related injuries may not get the full 12 months in every case, either, Mulcahy said.

If a service member has “a medical condition that is not congruent with service,” they can be appropriately referred to the medical disability system before the whole 12 months has expired, Mulcahy said.

Tara Copp is a Pentagon correspondent for the Associated Press. She was previously Pentagon bureau chief for Sightline Media Group.

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