Seeking to slow down momentum on Capitol Hill to increase the size of the Army
by at least 20,000 troops, top service officials recently offered a surprisingly
upbeat outlook on troop retention and recruiting.
Army officials said that, despite news reports to the contrary, the Reserves
and National Guard are not likely to see mass departures as a result of dangerous
and extended tours in Iraq.
“It is counterintuitive,” acknowledged Lt. Gen. James R. Helmly,
chief of Army Reserve.
As of late July, the active-duty Army met 101 percent of its recruiting goals
for fiscal year 2004, and Reserve recruiting is at 102 percent, while the National
Guard is at 88 percent, the Army reported.
Fiscal year 2004 retention is above 101 percent for the active-duty Army, 99
percent for Reserves and 100 percent for the National Guard. The healthy numbers
seen in 2004, however, may take a downturn in the years ahead, cautioned the
chief of staff, Gen. Peter J. Schoomaker. He told lawmakers at a July hearing
that he expected the 2005 and 2006 recruiting and retention to be a “challenge.”
Many news accounts have reported growing unhappiness among reservists and guardsmen
who have seen their tours of duty in Iraq extended. Despite the lengthy deployments
and hazardous duties, the force is highly motivated, Helmly told Pentagon reporters.
“They don’t question our motives and the need for their being there,
and they’re proud of what they’re doing,” Helmly said.
Lt. Gen. H Steven Blum, chief of the National Guard, also was optimistic. “We’re
having better success reenlisting our experienced soldiers, some of whom have
now been on active duty as much as two years, with one year boots on the ground
in a combat zone,” he told reporters. At the same news conference, Schoomaker
said that although the service will be growing by 30,000 soldiers during the
next three years, he does not believe the Army should increase its size permanently;
at least not yet.
The cost would be too high, Schoomaker said. “If we magically put 30,000
soldiers in the Army today, it would cost us about $3.6 billion per year.”
By making the increase only temporary, the Army can use congressional supplemental
appropriations to pay for the additional troops. If the growth becomes permanent,
Schoomaker warned, the Army would have to fund the cost in its regular budget,
possibly forcing the service to drain other accounts.
“In other words, we would have to take procurement money to buy new equipment
or replace equipment; we would have to take research and development money,”
said Schoomaker. “It costs us about five procurement dollars to make one
Schoomaker has been under pressure to fight back what appears to be an unstoppable
drive by Congress to add 20,000 troops to the Army’s force levels that
now are authorized at 482,400 soldiers. As a result of the wars in Iraq and
Afghanistan, the Army has more than 600,000 soldiers on active duty today, including
mobilized reservists Guard members and active-duty soldiers who were not allowed
to leave the service at the end of their service contracts, under so-called
“stop-loss” provisions. To boost the ranks in the near term, the
Army also will recruit sailors and airmen wishing to switch services, under
“Operation Blue to Green.”
The move by lawmakers to add 20,000 soldiers largely has been the result of
complaints from the families of service members, whose tours in Iraq kept getting