Army strained to near its breaking point
By James Kitfield, National Journal Govexec.com
KILLEEN, Texas -- Occupying a 340-square-mile swath of hill country in central Texas, Fort Hood is the home front for an Army at war.
One of the largest military installations in the world, it is the only post in the United States capable of hosting an Army corps headquarters plus two entire armored divisions: the 4th Infantry, which has recently returned from Iraq, and the 1st Cavalry, which is there now. On Fort Hood, nobody talks about what President Bush calls America's "long war" against terrorism as something in the abstract.
Within the confines of this base, the signs of war are subtle but plain. "Support Our Troops" ribbons festoon most cars. Posters for blood drives ("Save a Soldier's Life Today!") are plastered everywhere. The sight of soldiers on crutches or in bandages is commonplace at the post exchange. And every month, the base chapel holds memorial services for the local "Gold Star" spouses and families who have lost loved ones in uniform.
Amid the camaraderie of Fort Hood's military community, however, the signs of war's stress are evident. Consider the acute shortage of barracks space. Because the Army is restructuring itself into smaller, 3,500-4,500 troop brigades instead of larger, 10,000-12,000 troop divisions at the same time it is pulling units back from Cold War bases in Europe and Asia, and sending units repeatedly to Iraq and Afghanistan, the shuffling of personnel is intense.
Reliable figures are not available for the mental stress put on soldiers in the 11 Army brigades that have served three or more yearlong tours in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001. However, according to a Pentagon health study released in January, the rate of binge drinking in the Army ballooned by 30 percent between 2002 and 2005, and the increase in illicit drug use nearly doubled between 1998 and 2005.
Or consider for a moment the peculiar lack of tanks and armored Humvees in the Fort Hood motor pools. An acute and worsening equipment shortage has robbed soldiers of stateside training opportunities and decimated the readiness of units that have not gone to Iraq or Afghanistan.
For the past few years, units such as the 4th Infantry Division have been forced to leave behind much of their equipment in Iraq for use by their replacements such as the 1st Cavalry. That leaves the soldiers little equipment to train on when they return to Fort Hood.
The Army and Marine Corps have also depleted their stocks of equipment pre-positioned overseas, which will hamper their ability to respond quickly to emergencies elsewhere. That same equipment shuffle has left nearly 90 percent of Army National Guard units in the United States unready to respond to domestic emergencies, according to a recent report by a congressional commission.
If anything, equipment shortages are arguably worse today than in 1980, when the Army was recovering from Vietnam. Judging by their recent actions, Iran, North Korea, and other potential adversaries have taken note. "On the equipment side of the equation, the Army is pretty much broken," said Tom McNaugher, the longtime Army expert at the Rand think tank.
Dan Goure is a longtime Army expert at the Lexington Institute, a defense consulting firm in Virginia. He said that the Army simply was given way too much to do with limited resources. "The Army is living with [Schoomaker] and Rumsfeld's mistaken belief that the Army could undertake four or five major projects at once."
In addition to fighting the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the Army was tasked with transforming itself into modular brigades, pulling back from older Cold War bases in Europe and Asia to stateside bases, increasing its size, modernizing for the future, and developing a new counterinsurgency doctrine.
"In all fairness, that was too much stress to heap on the organization all at once; and if the Pentagon maintains the current operations tempo beyond more than the next nine months or so, they may well break the Army as a result," Goure said.
Another point made by Goure, and recently by Schoomaker, is that the nation is not spending enough money overall on defense, given the demands on the Pentagon from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
According to the Defense Department, the nation today is spending 3.9 percent of gross domestic product on the military and the war on terrorism, far below the level of national sacrifice during World War II (38 percent), the Korean War (14 percent), Vietnam (9.5 percent), the Reagan-era buildup (6.2 percent), or even the Clinton-era post-Cold War drawdown (4.8 percent). Little wonder that leaders in uniform worry that a nation increasingly divided over Iraq may become ambivalent about fully funding the military.
Comment: The only way to do it is to start doing it. Pay for it with increased import taxes on OPEC oil. Get support for the troops off the bumper and into the gas tank where it belongs. The American motor industry is suffering and up for a fire sale. Give them some big fat procurement contracts to replace needed vehicles. Have the flag waivers on Wall Street re-capitalize the US Motor Industry and get American workers and factories to build and repair the equipment promptly.
Any other ideas please state them.