The article "Army's Unready Divisions: Budget Feint or Fact?" [Federal Page, Nov. 15], which questions the veracity of the Army's claim as to the reason for low readiness ratings, omits an important point: Peacekeeping operations cost us in combat readiness.

As an infantryman, I served in multiple units committed to nontraditional and peacekeeping missions, from Hurricane Andrew relief to Haiti and Bosnia.

Observing these deployments, I know a truth that the article seemed to miss: The cost in combat readiness is at least three times the number of troops executing the mission. At any given time, one unit is deployed, one unit is preparing to deploy and one unit is recovering from the deployment.

No command is fully combat effective when a subordinate unit is committed to peacekeeping. Repeated peacekeeping efforts erode the experience base that leaders draw upon to keep their soldiers alive in combat, because the opportunity to train does not exist. But professional soldiers in high-profile leadership positions have failed to fully articulate the real cost of these peacekeeping deployments.

An unfit rating also should not be seen only negatively. Readiness reporting is a commander's responsibility, and a unit's combat readiness is a reflection of a commander's ability. This forces the commander to think long and hard before reporting his unit unfit for combat. Those commanders who do so are of the highest moral standard but, sadly, rarely last long.

MARK R. LEWIS

Falls Church

The Army chief of staff's vision of five divisions of lightly armored forces, as noted in a Nov. 13 Federal Page story, challenged much of the Army's conventional wisdom. Gen. Eric Shinseki should go one step farther and challenge another one of those wisdoms, one that has caused him problems recently with the readiness of divisions.

One component of readiness is the division's structure. Force designers have built large, cumbersome division headquarters and support structures. When one brigade deploys, it must take significant assets from this support structure to survive. Unfortunately, the remaining structure is hollow in some key skills and the remaining two-thirds of the division loses its ability to deploy and fight.

The Army would be better off if it could beef up the brigade-support structure so that each brigade was more self-supporting and the division headquarters could operate as a tactical or operational command.

The 24th Infantry Division Headquarters at Fort Riley, Kan., without any active-duty units assigned, would be perfect for testing such a concept. Since Gen. Shinseki has started down this path, he might as well take the next steps.

BRUCE B. G. CLARKE

Topeka, Kan.

The writer is a retired U.S. Army colonel.