WASHINGTON—The Army's top general warned Thursday that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan "will break" the active-duty Army unless the National Guard and Reserves are used more often and thousands of active-duty troops are added to the ranks.
With the all-volunteer force now in its fifth year of combat and facing unprecedented strains, Gen. Peter J. Schoomaker noted that active-duty combat brigades spend less than one year at home.
"At this pace, without recurrent access to the reserve components through remobilization, we will break the active component," Schoomaker told a panel appointed by Congress to recommend changes for the National Guard and Reserves.
Further, because nearly all part-time Army units have been called up to serve at least once in the war on terrorism and in Iraq, current mobilization policies mean that the Army must rely on individual volunteers to fill out units that are being deployed again.
"This runs counter to the military necessity of deploying trained, ready and cohesive units," Schoomaker said in testimony to the Commission on the National Guard and Reserves. "In my view, we must deploy our force in cohesive units, not as volunteers."
Schoomaker said the situation will require the Army to remobilize units and reserve component soldiers who already have served once in the war on terror and in Iraq. His recommendations were first reported on Tuesday by McClatchy Newspapers.
Commission chairman Arnold L. Punaro said there's broad agreement among military commanders who've testified in previous hearings that the Pentagon's policy for mobilizing reserve forces must change, but the frequency and duration of deployments remain in dispute.
"It's not sustainable," said Punaro, a retired Marine major general who's now an executive at defense contractor SAIC. "Whether it's feasible or not (to change the policy) remains to be seen."
Speaking to reporters after the hearing, Lt. Gen. Clyde Vaughn, the director of the Army National Guard, said he supports changing the policy so that citizen soldiers are called up to serve for no more than 12 months at a time. Under that model, the Army National Guard could provide as many as 60,000 combat troops for deployment "for a long time," Vaughn said.
"One year is absolutely critical," Vaughn said. "Eighteen months is too long."
Under current law, National Guard and Reserve forces can be called to active duty for up to two consecutive years under a partial mobilization, which is what President Bush declared after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
But the practice under Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld has been to mobilize part-time troops for no more than 24 cumulative months. National Guard and Reserve troops called to service in Iraq and Afghanistan usually spend about six months training, then a year on the ground, leaving them only six months of eligibility to serve in other active-duty roles.
North Carolina Gov. Mike Easley, the National Governors Association's point man on National Guard issues, said the preparations take too long.
"Soldiers are spending way too much time at mobilization stations before they get to the fight," he said in a statement.
He also argued that thousands of active-duty soldiers have yet to serve in the war. "We should fully use all active-duty soldiers first before we ask the National Guard to do a second or even third round of deployments," Easley said.
More than 1 million American servicemen and women have served in Iraq and Afghanistan, many of them National Guard and Reserve troops.
Army officials say Schoomaker wants the 24-month restriction lifted so that units can go to war intact. Although that means that some part-time troops would have to serve again involuntarily in the short term, the goal by 2009 is for active-duty units to serve a year-long overseas deployment only once every three years, Army Reserve units to serve overseas only one out of every five years, and National Guard units to serve only one year overseas out of every six.
Unless current policies on reserve forces are changed, the country must either reduce the number of troops overseas or add troops to the active-duty Army, Schoomaker said.
Schoomaker said that current demands on the Army make it a "wise and prudent action" to add more troops than the 30,000 that Congress has approved in recent years. Schoomaker said the Army could "optimistically" add at least 6,000 to 7,000 more soldiers a year, or more with greater recruiting incentives.
The Army currently has about 500,000 active-duty troops. Reserve components make up 55 percent of the Army's total strength, with 196,000 troops in the Army Reserve and 345,000 in the National Guard.
Air Force Maj. Gen. Roger Lempke, president of the national Adjutants General Association, which represents the senior leadership of the Army and Air National Guard, said the National Guard already has called up about 75 percent of its soldiers.
Those soldiers aren't available now, he said, and he fears that the Army wants more rotations for troops to meet its needs overseas.
"If they get that access and do it the current way, I expect you're going to see more problems with recruitment and retention," said Lempke, the adjutant general for the Nebraska National Guard.
Lempke said Guard soldiers now are mobilized about two years out of every six or seven. He'd be willing to see troops deployed more often if they don't stay away as long.
"We could do one year in five," Lempke said. "We could support that, but we can't do 18 months every three years or less."
The commission is supposed to deliver a report to Congress by January 2008 that recommends changes to the National Guard and Reserve military forces.
(McClatchy Newspapers correspondent Barbara Barrett contributed to this report.)
(c) 2006, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.
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