Lt. Gen. James J. Lovelace Jr., the Army's operations chief, is a kind of circus master responsible for juggling limited units and equipment and prioritizing who does what. Ringed by organizational charts in his Pentagon office, the West Point graduate from Richmond ticked off the far-flung corners from which the Army has had to muster forces.
"We've deployed units of the Old Guard!" he said, referring to the first-ever deployment of the ceremonial guard from Fort Myer, when a company was dispatched to Djibouti last year. "We've reached up inside of Alaska and grabbed the forces up there," he said. "Korea! Who would have ever thought that we would have deployed a combat formation?" he said, referring to a brigade sent from South Korea to Iraq.
Marine Sgt. Andrew Mrozik, left, and Staff Sgt. Jody Van Doorenmaalen talk with a potential recruit at a high school in Algonquin, Ill. Military recruiters say they find it increasingly difficult to meet goals for new service members.
(Jeff Roberson -- AP)
Two years ago, the Army released 2,500 recruiters so they could ship out with tactical units, officials say. The Marines also sent scores fewer people to recruiting school because they were needed for military operations.
Reenlistment rates, which have remained strong despite lengthy combat tours, took a slight downturn in the active-duty Army and Army National Guard during the first four months of fiscal 2005. The Army met 94 percent of its target for getting first-term soldiers to reenlist, and it hit 96 percent among those in mid-career. An earlier study of troops in Bosnia showed they were initially more likely to reenlist than those who had stayed home, but their renewal rates dropped as the number, length and danger of deployments increased.
"I worry about the soldiers with the second and third tour . . . since 9/11," Cody, the Army vice chief, told reporters Thursday.
As it rounds up troops for deployments, the Army has had to allocate limited equipment. It has shuffled thousands of items from radios to rifles between units, geared up new industrial production, and depleted the Army's pre-positioned stocks of tanks, Humvees and other assets to outfit units for combat.
Army stocks in Southwest Asia are exhausted, and those in Europe have also been "picked over," one U.S. official said. Roughly half of the Army and Marine equipment stored afloat on ships has been used up, the official said. Refilling the stocks must wait until the Iraq war winds down, Army officials say.
Meanwhile, a sizable portion of Marine and Army gear is in Iraq, wearing out at up to six times the normal rate. Battle losses are mounting; the Army has lost 79 aircraft and scores of tanks and Bradley Fighting Vehicles. "We are equip-stretched, let there be no doubt about it. . . . This Army started this war not fully equipped," Cody said in recent congressional testimony.
The priority on allocating scarce resources to deployed units means that forces rotating back home -- especially reserve units -- are dropping in readiness. In many cases, they are being rated at the lowest level, C4, because of a lack of functioning equipment, required training or manpower.
"The Army in the aggregate is reporting readiness levels that are less today than they have been in the past," said Paul W. Mayberry, deputy to the undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness.
The Pentagon says that by rotating duties, it maintains enough ready forces and pre-positioned equipment to handle a crisis on the Korean Peninsula and other contingencies. But U.S. lawmakers are concerned.
Sen. John W. Warner (R-Va.) said he worries primarily about the U.S. ability to respond if "some problem should arise on the Korean Peninsula."
"How capable are we of handling another major conflict?" asked Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.). "It's pretty obvious that it would be incredibly difficult because of the portion of our resources devoted to Iraq and Afghanistan. What if a conflict broke out with North Korea or Iran?"
Feeling the Strain
Of all the military branches, the Army National Guard and the Army Reserve are suffering the most, as they provide between a third and half of the troops in Iraq, despite a legacy of chronic shortages in their manning and equipment.