Saturday, April 09, 2005

Two years later, military is depleted; National Guard is most strained branch

A gritty report of reality here; for all the 'creative' efforts on part of the military to meet the demands of this Administration, it would seem implosion has been reached.

The Washington Post
March 20. 2005 11:12PM

WASHINGTON - Two years after the United States launched a war in Iraq with a crushing display of power, a guerrilla conflict is grinding away at the resources of the U.S. military and casting uncertainty over the fitness of the all-volunteer force, according to senior military leaders, lawmakers and defense experts.

The unexpectedly heavy demands of sustained ground combat are depleting military manpower and gear faster than they can be fully replenished. Shortfalls in recruiting and backlogs in needed equipment are taking a toll, and growing numbers of units have been broken apart or taxed by repeated deployments, particularly in the Army National Guard and the Army Reserve.

"What keeps me awake at night is, what will this all-volunteer force look like in 2007?" Gen. Richard Cody, Army vice chief of staff, said at a Senate hearing last week.

The Iraq war has also led to a drop in the overall readiness of U.S. ground forces to handle threats at home and abroad, forcing the Pentagon to accept new risks - even as military planners prepare for a global anti-terrorism campaign that administration officials say could last for a generation.

Stretched by Iraq and Afghanistan, the United States lacks a sufficiently robust ability to put large numbers of "boots on the ground" in case of a major emergency elsewhere, such as the Korean Peninsula, in the view of some Republican and Democratic lawmakers and some military leaders.


Moreover, military leaders are taking steps to ease stress on the troops by temporarily boosting ranks; rebalancing forces to add badly needed infantry, military police and civil affairs troops; and employing civilians where possible. Friday, defense officials worried about recruiting announced that they will raise the age limit, from 34 to 40, for enlistment in the Army Guard and Reserve. The Pentagon is spending billions to repair and replace battle-worn equipment and buy extra armor, radios, weapons and other gear.

Yet such remedies take time, and no one, including senior officials, can predict how long the all-volunteer force can sustain this accelerated wartime pace. Recruiting troubles, especially, threaten the force at its core. But with a return to the draft widely viewed as economically and politically untenable, senior military leaders say the nation's security depends on drumming up broader public support for service.

"If we don't get this thing right, the risk is off the scale," said Lt. Gen. Roger Schultz, director of the Army National Guard, the military's most stressed branch.


Growing demands

As the military struggles to find fresh recruits, there is unprecedented strain on service members and their families.

Since 2001, the U.S. military has deployed more than 1 million troops for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, with 341,000, or nearly a third, serving two or more overseas tours.

Today, an entrenched insurgency in Iraq ties down 150,000 U.S. troops, inflicting upwards of 1,500 deaths so far - more than 10 times the number killed in the major combat operations that President Bush declared ended on May 1, 2003.

Because of the spreading violence from the insurgency, coupled with a smaller foreign coalition than was hoped for, the U.S. Army and Marines in particular have scrambled to keep a force of roughly 17 brigades in Iraq until now, rather than draw down to eight brigades or even be out altogether, according to previous military projections.


As it rounds up troops for deployments, the Army has had to allocate limited equipment. It has shuffled thousands of items from radios to rifles between units, geared up new industrial production, and depleted the Army's pre-positioned stocks of tanks, Humvees and other assets to outfit units for combat.

Army stocks in Southwest Asia are exhausted, and those in Europe have also been "picked over," one U.S. official said. Roughly half of the Army and Marine equipment stored afloat on ships has been used up, the official said. Refilling the stocks must wait until the Iraq war winds down, Army officials say.

Meanwhile, a sizable portion of Marine and Army gear is in Iraq, wearing out at up to six times the normal rate. Battle losses are mounting; the Army has lost 79 aircraft and scores of tanks and Bradley Fighting Vehicles. "We are equip-stretched, let there be no doubt about it. . . . This Army started this war not fully equipped," Cody said in recent congressional testimony.

The priority on allocating scarce resources to deployed units means that forces rotating back home -especially reserve units - are dropping in readiness. In many cases, they are being rated at the lowest level, C4, because of a lack of functioning equipment, required training or manpower.

"The Army in the aggregate is reporting readiness levels that are less today than they have been in the past," said Paul Mayberry, deputy to the undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness.


Feeling the strain

Of all the military branches, the Army National Guard and the Army Reserve are suffering the most, as they provide between a third and half of the troops in Iraq, despite a legacy of chronic shortages in their manning and equipment.

"The real stress on the system was the fact that no one envisioned that we would have this level of commitment for the National Guard," which shipped seven combat brigades to Iraq and Afghanistan for the most recent rotation, Cody said.

Because the Army traditionally undersupplies Guard and reserve units, few had the troops or gear needed when mobilized. As a result, large numbers of soldiers and equipment were shifted from one unit to another, or "cross-leveled," to cobble together a force to deploy.

"We were woefully underequipped before the war started. That situation hasn't gotten any better. As a matter of fact, it gets a little bit worse every day, because we continue to cross-level," Lt. Gen. Steven Blum, chief of the National Guard Bureau, told Congress this month.

The widespread fracturing of units is making it increasingly difficult for the Army to assemble viable forces from the remaining hodgepodge - most of which have low readiness ratings, Army figures show. "It's a little bit like Swiss cheese. We've taken out holes in the units," Lovelace said. "Those holes are a lot of times leaders, and they are hard to grow."

Already, the Guard and Reserve have deployed the vast majority of their forces most needed for fighting counterinsurgencies in Iraq and Afghanistan - such as military intelligence, civil affairs, infantry and military police - bringing into question whether the Pentagon's two-year limit on reserve mobilizations is sustainable.

"Can we do this forever? No. We can't do this forever at current levels," the Army National Guard's Schultz said in an interview.

In a sign of deeper problems, career citizen-soldiers frustrated by broken units and long, grueling war-zone duties are increasingly leaving the Guard. Attrition among career guardsmen is running at nearly 20 percent, said Schultz, who expects that as many as a third of the members of some units rotating back from Iraq will quit.

Recruitment is sluggish, reaching just 75 percent of the target for the first quarter of fiscal 2005 - meaning that the Guard is unlikely to reach its desired strength of 350,000 soldiers this year.

The viability of the Army Guard and Reserve will prove decisive, senior Army leaders say, as they consider in 2006 whether to permanently increase the size of the active-duty Army, and if so by how much. It also marks a critical test of the military's ability to appeal to the civilian population, not only with bonuses and education benefits, but also with an ethos of self-sacrifice that it considers the bedrock of the all-volunteer force.

"For the all-volunteer force to work, it has to work all the time, not just in peacetime," Schultz said. "It's now time to answer the call to serve, to assemble on the village green."

read entire article at Concord Monitor Online

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President George W. Bush's statement in March 2006 after 3 yrs of war "a future President will have to resolve war in Iraq"


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