Their View: The Army needs restructuring to meet needs
Critical assessments that the Iraq war may stretch the Army into a “thin green line” merit grave concern. The staffing demands of this war are huge, and even if the nation's ground forces remain strong now, the Army's failure to meet recruitment goals last year is worrisome for a superpower that undoubtedly will be tested repeatedly.
A year ago, the Pentagon's chief of Reserve forces voiced worries similar to those contained in a new report, prepared under Pentagon contract by the retired Army officer who now heads the nonprofit Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments. Both center on the demands of repeated, rotating combat tours during the long effort to combat insurgency in Iraq and to maintain stability in Afghanistan.
Nearly half of the American soldiers who served in Iraq are in Reserve or National Guard units, highly trained under a very successful program to keep Reserve forces ready to step into front-line roles beside regular Army troops. There are 550,000 Army Reserve and National Guard troops in the nation's overall Army, and 512,000 regular Army soldiers.
Keeping the current 136,000 troops in Iraq may not seem a burden for a force of more than 1 million, but the length of this war has meant repeated deployments for combat brigades. Last year's recruiting and re-enlistment failures were the first missed quotas since 1999. They obviously reflect awareness of the dangers in Iraq and the country's mood about this war and the personal and family hardships of repeated tours of duty.
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld stubbornly states the obvious - that this made the Army more experienced. He's just whistling past an American graveyard if he thinks that grinding out this war will make his forces better able to meet other threats and fight other fights at the same time.
The report worries that the United States can't keep enough troops in Iraq long enough to break the back of the insurgency. Popular sentiment for a full Iraqi takeover of the security role may solve that problem even faster than the currently planned draw-down to below 100,000 by year's end. But there also ought to be much more serious discussion - and not just in the Pentagon - of force restructuring and possibly of expanding the regular Army and other branches to meet an expanded role, without so severely taxing Reserve forces.
- The Buffalo (N.Y.) News