By Walter Pincus
Tuesday, May 19, 2009
Remember the active and reserve or National Guard service personnel who had their deployments abroad involuntarily extended because no replacements were available?
Well, the House has approved $734 million in payments for troops held under what has been described as a "back-door draft." The service members would get $500 for every month their enlistment was involuntarily extended.
The average compensation for about 130,000 Army service members will run $4,000. Navy personnel were deployed an extra 15 months on average, almost twice as long as the Army personnel, which will net them an average of $7,500.
The funding was a minuscule part of the $96 billion supplemental spending bill that passed the House last week and will primarily finance the military activities in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq.
An extra $100 million was included for research and development on ways to deal with the increasing occurrence of traumatic brain injury, "one of the alarming features of modern warfare," according to a report on the supplemental bill published last week by the House Appropriations Committee. From October 2002 to last December, 58,257 service members were treated for such injuries, the committee said.
Those injured, primarily by rocket-propelled grenades, improvised explosive devices and land mines, "require specialized care from providers experienced in treating [these brain] injuries in their various severities," the committee said. The panel's study found that "there is a population of soldiers that do not respond to traditional methods of care," so the additional funds are to be used to identify new approaches.
In response to a request from Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, the committee approved a first-time $400 million package of counterinsurgency funds for Pakistan's security forces but said that beginning next year, the package will be directed by the State Department. Until now, such funds were handled by the Pentagon but had to be distributed with the concurrence of the secretary of state.
The report highlights new equipment developed for troops in Afghanistan and Iraq. The devices include the vehicle-mounted Counter Sniper system and the Soldier-Wearable Acoustic Targeting System (SWATS). The Army is getting $99 million for these counter-sniper systems, which the committee said "should satisfy numerous emergency requests from forward deployed and forward deploying units."
The SWATS, which weighs less than a pound, has acoustic and other miniaturized sensors that allow a soldier to locate in a second or less the source of sniper fire within a 360-degree radius.
The SWATS provides troops with audio and visual directions to the enemy. There is also the heavier version -- for use in vehicles -- that weighs about five pounds. The committee directed the Army to make the purchase of the devices a priority and said that "if shortfalls still exist . . . reprogram the necessary funds to accommodate the shortfalls."
The U.S. military, meanwhile, is trying to cut contracting costs in Iraq. One way is to decrease the number of contractors by 5 percent each quarter, according to a January memo from Gen. Ray Odierno, the top U.S. commander in Iraq. Another way is to reduce the number of contracts awarded to American or third-country national firms and give more contracts to Iraqis. "Employment of Iraqis not only saves money but it also strengthens the Iraqi economy and helps eliminate the root causes of the insurgency," the memo stated.
The House panel cut $300 million from funds available for Iraq contractors in the fiscal 2009 supplemental. The committee also recommended a similar approach to contracting in Afghanistan. In addition, the panel required monthly reports to the House and Senate on contracting in both countries.