The Army's top officer said he expects to hit recruiting targets next year and does not foresee a circumstance under which resumption of the draft might be needed to satisfy the global demands placed on the U.S. military.
Gen. Peter J. Schoomaker, the Army chief of staff, also explicitly rejected the idea of sharply boosting the Army, as some in Congress have recommended, saying at a Pentagon news conference that "we are currently growing the Army as fast as we can." Congress recently authorized a short-term addition of 30,000 troops, bringing the active-duty Army to about 512,000, and Schoomaker said the Army will consider in 2006 whether to support making the increase permanent.
He also said that the fighting in Iraq, far from hurting the Army's modernization efforts, actually has had "very positive" effects on the effort to adjust the service to the new demands of the 21st century. "We are changing and we are making great progress in this regard," Schoomaker said. "We're making some of the most significant changes in our Army that we have made since World War II."
Schoomaker's comments focused almost exclusively on the question of how Iraq and other deployments are affecting Army personnel and modernization. He said he was speaking in part because some news stories "have been inaccurate or misleading." He did not elaborate.
In recent months the Army has taken a series of unusual steps to cope with the strain of meeting its deployment needs in Iraq. The number of U.S. troops there has risen to about 141,000 in recent months to confront the insurgency, instead of declining as planned earlier.
That has prompted the Army to keep thousands of soldiers in Iraq beyond their planned tours of 12 months, to impose "stop-loss" orders requiring some soldiers to stay in the Army even after their scheduled exit dates and to plan to send to the Middle East two units that specialize in training troops at home.
More recently, the Army has recalled several thousand soldiers who left active duty but are still contractually obligated to serve if called upon. The troops, part of the Individual Ready Reserve, will fill empty positions in units scheduled for deployment overseas, including combat support roles such as mechanics, logistics and civil affairs. It was the first time since the Persian Gulf War that the Pentagon has drawn on the Individual Ready Reserve.
Schoomaker and other generals at the news conference conceded that there are some worrisome signs, including that the number of recruits in the delayed entry program -- those waiting to ship out -- has shrunk to its lowest level in three years. "We will be working very hard over the fall to increase that," Schoomaker said.
He also noted that while the active-duty Army and Army Reserve are meeting their recruiting goals, the Army National Guard currently is at only 88 percent of its target. He said he is "cautiously optimistic that we will make our goal."
Some state officials recently have expressed concern that deployments of Guard units to Iraq are making them less able to respond to fires, hurricanes and other natural disasters. Lt. Gen. H. Steven Blum, the head of the National Guard Bureau, who was also at the news conference, conceded that four states -- Idaho, Montana, Vermont and New Hampshire -- have half their Army Guard contingents deployed. But he said that any situation can be handled by using those states' Air Guard troops or nearby states' Army Guard troops. So, Blum concluded, "they are well prepared to handle forest fires or acts of Mother Nature or acts of a terrorist."
Discussing Iraq, Schoomaker said the sustained combat there has been a "forcing function" for change. "This war . . . provides momentum and focus and resources to transform," he said.
Under Schoomaker, the Army has accelerated a reorganization aimed at making troops more easily deployable, better able to fight once they get to a war zone and better able to withstand the strain of long missions, such as Iraq, which Army officers expect will be the rule for decades to come.
The continuing combat in Iraq has focused the Army on what it needs to do, and made it easier to remove some barriers to change, Schoomaker indicated. "It is a tough management challenge, but it's a unique strategic opportunity for us to take advantage of, and that's what we're doing."