WASHINGTON, D.C. – Senator Lisa Murkowski today made the following remarks concerning Secretary Gates’ announcement that all Army personnel serving in Iraq will have their tours extended to 15 months. Once again, our Nation’s senior defense leaders have called upon the families of our active duty soldiers to muster all of their strength and courage and accept an extension of the period their loved ones will serve in overseas deployment. My heart goes out to the parents, spouses, children, and friends of all of those who are affected by the announcement. Our Nation owes a debt of gratitude to our military families whose sacrifices at home are no less integral to the defense of our freedoms than the work of their loved ones on the battlefield. My resolve to ensure that our senior military leaders will do all that they can to help our military families through the difficult days that may follow has not weakened since the return of the 172nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team last December after a 16 month deployment. The military maintains that they learned a great many lessons from the support that they provided to our Fort Wainwright families during that extended deployment. Their challenge is to provide that same level of support on Army posts nationwide. Our military families deserve no less. I am disappointed that our military families at Fort Richardson had to learn about Secretary Gates’ announcement through the news media. The senior leaders in the Department of Defense heard loud and clear from our Fort Wainwright families that extensions are traumatic events and should be announced with the greatest of sensitivity. The decision should have been delivered to families through the chain of command before it was delivered to the Nation in a news conference. The Fort Richardson paratroopers were deployed in October 2006 and were expected to return about the same time this year. While no extension is welcome, at least our servicemen and their families have reasonable notice by informing them of this extension six months before the anticipated return date. I do not know what the effect of the decision will have on the families of other units that may have expected an earlier return. In addition, Secretary Gates’ statement provided certainty that the extension period would not exceed 3 months. Throughout the fall of 2006, our Fort Wainwright families were forced to cope with the uncertainty about whether their loved ones would suffer an extension over and above the 4 months initially announced. Secretary Gates’ prediction that the 15 month duty period would enable units at least 12 months at home between deployments provides further certainty to our soldiers and their families. Secretary Gates indicated that the new policy applies only to active military and not to components of the National Guard. I will be contacting the Department of Defense to clarify that no extension of the deployment of our Alaska National Guard members is in the offing. As always, my office is available to assist our military families in every way possible. My constituent service offices in Anchorage, Fairbanks and Wasilla have been working with families since this war began and will continue to do so. Military families that wish to contact me directly should do so by visiting my website – www.murkowski.senate.gov.