By Ann Scott Tyson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 15, 2006
Warning that the active-duty Army "will break" under the strain of today's war-zone rotations, the nation's top Army general yesterday called for expanding the force by 7,000 or more soldiers a year and lifting Pentagon restrictions on involuntary call-ups of Army National Guard and Army Reserve troops.
Gen. Peter J. Schoomaker, the Army's chief of staff, issued his most dire assessment yet of the toll of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan on the nation's main ground force. At one point, he banged his hand on a House committee-room table, saying the continuation of today's Pentagon policies is "not right."
In particularly blunt testimony, Schoomaker said the Army began the Iraq war "flat-footed" with a $56 billion equipment shortage and 500,000 fewer soldiers than during the 1991 Persian Gulf War. Echoing the warnings from the post-Vietnam War era, when Gen. Edward C. Meyer, then the Army chief of staff, decried the "hollow Army," Schoomaker said it is critical to make changes now to shore up the force for what he called a long and dangerous war.
"The Army is incapable of generating and sustaining the required forces to wage the global war on terror . . . without its components -- active, Guard and reserve -- surging together," Schoomaker said in testimony before the congressionally created Commission on the National Guard and Reserves.
The burden on the Army's 507,000 active-duty soldiers -- who now spend more time at war than at home -- is simply too great, he said. "At this pace, without recurrent access to the reserve components, through remobilization, we will break the active component," he said, drawing murmurs around the hearing room.
The Army, which had 482,000 soldiers in 2001, plans to grow temporarily to 512,000. But the Army now seeks to make that increase permanent and to continue increasing its ranks by 7,000 or more a year, Schoomaker said. He said the total increase is under discussion.
"I recommend we continue to grow the Army so that we have choices," Schoomaker said, cautioning that it is ill advised to assume demand for American troops overseas will decrease. "Our history is replete with examples where we have guessed wrong: 1941, 1950, 2001, to name a few," he said. "We don't know what's ahead."
In light of such a sober assessment, Schoomaker voiced skepticism about the idea of an infusion of U.S. ground troops into Iraq, a message sources said he and the other members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff delivered to President Bush at the Pentagon on Wednesday.
"We should not surge without a purpose, and that purpose should be measurable and get us something," he told reporters after the hearing.
Schoomaker's highly public appeal for more troops and reserve call-ups appeared to be part of an Army campaign to lobby incoming Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, who is to be sworn in Monday, to approve the desired policy changes as well as a significant increase in the Army budget.
The Army estimates that every 10,000 additional soldiers will cost about $1.2 billion a year, up from $700 million in 2001 in part because of increased enlistment bonuses and other incentives. The Army will have to "gain additional resources to support that strategy," Schoomaker acknowledged.
Democrats, who will take charge of Congress next month, said yesterday that they plan to hold hearings on the "urgent" and "critical" readiness problems of the Army and Marine Corps. "Readiness levels for every unit must be raised and maintained at the highest possible level," Rep. Solomon P. Ortiz (D-Tex.), incoming chairman of the House Armed Services Committee's readiness panel, and Rep. Neil Abercrombie (D-Hawaii) said in an opinion article released yesterday. Two-thirds of Army units in the United States are now considered not ready to deploy.
The Army's manpower dilemma stems in part from current Pentagon policies: Although 55 percent of soldiers belong to the National Guard and the reserve, Defense Department guidelines require that reservists be mobilized involuntarily only once, and for no more than 24 months.
As a result, out of the total of 522,000 Army National Guard and reserve members, only about 90,000 are still available to be mobilized, according to Army data. "We're out of Schlitz," declared an Army chart depicting the shortage as a depleted barrel, saying this leaves "future missions in jeopardy."
Compounding the problem, the Pentagon has restricted repeated involuntary call-ups, leading to deeper and deeper holes in Army Guard and reserve units. Since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, hundreds of thousands of reserve soldiers have been mobilized for Iraq and Afghanistan. So when a unit is called to deploy, the only soldiers who can go are volunteers and new soldiers. The remainder are often drawn from dozens of units across the United States.
The result is systematically "broken" and "non-cohesive" units, said another Army chart titled "OSD-mandated Volunteer Policy Stresses the Force," referring to the office of the secretary of defense.
For example, Army Reserve units now must take an average of 62 percent of their soldiers for deployments from other units, compared with 6 percent in 2002 and 39 percent in 2003, according to the Army data. In one transportation company, only seven of 170 soldiers were eligible to deploy. The other 163 came from 65 other units in 49 locations, said the commission chairman, retired Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Arnold L. Punaro, who quoted a Marine Reserve officer as calling the policy "evil."
"Military necessity dictates that we deploy organized, trained, equipped cohesive units -- and you don't do that by pick-up teams," said Schoomaker, a decorated veteran of the Army's Delta Force who served in the ill-fated Desert One rescue mission in Iran in 1980.
"We must start this clock again . . . and field fully ready units. . . . We must change this policy," he said, banging his hand on the table for emphasis. He said later that he had detected "some movement" by Pentagon policymakers who have so far rejected a change on the politically sensitive issue.
In an interview yesterday on C-SPAN, Thomas F. Hall, assistant secretary of defense for reserve affairs, said that under the current authority Bush can mobilize up to 1 million reservists for no more than two "continuous" years, but the Pentagon policy under Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld has been more restrictive, limiting the time to two "cumulative" years. "The law does say 'continuous,' so you could have a break and recall them," Hall said.
Lt. Gen. Clyde Vaughn, chief of the 346,000-strong Army National Guard, said yesterday that his force is "poised for remobilization."
Vaughn said he thinks state Guard leaders will accept fresh call-ups sooner than planned as long as the deployments are limited to 12 months and draw on units that have been home the longest. He said the Guard could tolerate having units deploy for one year out of every five, instead of out of every six.
"One year is absolutely critical," he said, explaining that the 18 months it currently takes for a Guard unit to mobilize, train and deploy means too much time away from jobs and families. Schoomaker indicated that the Army is working on reducing the duration of Guard and reserve deployments to one year.
Since 2001, the Army Guard has deployed 186,000 soldiers and the Army Reserve 164,000 soldiers for duty in Iraq and Afghanistan and in homeland-defense missions.