WASHINTON—The United States needs to reach a consensus on how to fight terrorists and increase defense spending to make sure the Army stays ready to fight, the Army's chief of staff said Tuesday.
Gen. Peter J. Schoomaker also called on teachers, parents and other influential adults to encourage young people to serve in the military.
Speaking at the Army's annual convention, Schoomaker said the United States was "much closer to the beginning than the end" of the war on al-Qaida and other terrorists. "Ultimate victory," he said, would require a common understanding of the enemy and the nature of the conflict, plus a "national strategic consensus" on how to address the threat.
"While such a common strategic foundation—understood and accepted by the American people—existed during the Cold War in the form of `containment,' it is not evident that such common understanding exists today," he said.
Schoomaker didn't give specific figures about the amount of defense-spending increases he thought was necessary. He said the Army had learned a "bitter lesson" during the 1990s when 425,000 soldiers were cut from its ranks and expenditures fell to levels unseen since the late 1940s. From the late 1980s until 2001, there was a $100 billion shortfall in investment in new technologies and $56 billion in equipment shortages, Schoomaker said.
Defense spending now is less than 4 percent of U.S. gross domestic product, compared with 38 percent during World War II, 14 percent during the Korean War and 10 percent during the Vietnam War.
"Let there be no mistake: Our soldiers' effectiveness in battle—both today and tomorrow—ultimately depends upon a national commitment to recruit, train, equip and support them and their families properly," he said. "This is a matter of national priorities, not affordability."
Schoomaker, who's nearing the end of his four-year term, said the Army faced a challenge in recruiting enough soldiers to fight in a protracted war.
"We should see our best young people seeking to serve," he said. "America's future depends on it."
The Army missed recruiting targets in 2005. It made its goals in fiscal year 2006, which ended Sept. 30, but had to make some changes, including increasing the maximum age for recruits to 42 and allowing 4 percent of recruits to score in category 4, the lowest level, compared with a previous limit of 2 percent in the lowest category.
Army officials denied that they'd lowered standards. They said the overall Pentagon standard was 4 percent in category 4 and the change brought the Army's standard in line with that.
Army officials said waivers for crimes had increased but that most were for misdemeanors. Waivers for serious crimes are below 1 percent of the total number of recruits, and waivers for drug and alcohol use also remain below 1 percent of the total.
A study last month by the National Priorities Project, a nonprofit group that examines federal spending, found that new recruits in 2005 came primarily from low- and middle-income neighborhoods, and that recruits from households with annual incomes of more than $55,000 were increasingly underrepresented.
(c) 2006, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.
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