- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 29, 2000

More than half of Army combat and support training centers have plunged to the lowest possible readiness level, with some commanding generals warning they risk not being able to turn out qualified soldiers, internal documents say.
The sensitive Army reports show that of 20 schools for such critically important skills as field artillery, infantry and aviation, 12 have dipped to a C-4 rating, the military's lowest.
"In the three-year period since the time I was assistant commandant to now, I have never seen a resource picture so bleak. And as we know, it will get worse," said a report from Maj. Gen. Tony Stricklin, commander of the Army Field Artillery School at Fort Still, Okla.
The documents paint a disturbing picture of training within the very system designed to teach basic combat skills and prepare soldiers for real-life operations. The skills include artillery and missile firings, helicopter aviation, land combat and intelligence.
Some of the lowest-ranked training sites include the Army Aviation Center at Fort Rucker, Ala.; the Army Intelligence Center at Fort Huachuca, Ariz.; and the Army Field Artillery School at Fort Sill, Okla.
"Let me clearly state the U.S. Army Field Artillery School is nearing an unready state for training artillery soldiers," Gen. Stricklin wrote.
A spokesman for Army Training and Doctrine Command, which oversees the training centers and collected the readiness reports, declined comment yesterday.
"We have no comment at all about leaked material," said spokesman Harvey Perritt.
Generals who run the centers complain of inadequate funding, equipment and instructors. Their stark messages are contained in memos to Training and Doctrine Command in the latest readiness reports available for this year. Final reports are due after the fiscal year ends Sept. 30. All schools were projected to continue operating at low levels.
Maj. Gen. Anthony R. Jones, who heads the Army Aviation Center for pilot training at Fort Rucker, Ala., said, "Shortages in personnel and funding are significantly impacting the scope of active projects."
The Army Signal Center at Fort Gordon, Ga., where soldiers learn combat communications, reported similar problems.
"Insufficient personnel and training equipment, use of obsolete training equipment, and a lack of funding have continued to plague our ability to accomplish our training mission for more than two years," wrote Maj. Gen. Peter M. Cuviello, then commander, who is now stationed at the Pentagon. "We are barely meeting the requirement, and in fact, we are graduating soldiers from Advanced Individual Training, noncommissioned officer courses, and officer courses who have not received the comprehensive training we owe them in order to be successful in their jobs."
The documents show that of 20 schools, 12 were classified C-4. Six were rated C-3. The highest rating, C-2, went to chaplain training and special warfare.
The 12 C-4 grades were for training in air defense, aviation, chemical weapons, combined arms, engineering, field artillery, infantry, military intelligence, military police, signal corps and transportation.
The Army Training and Doctrine Command defines C-4 this way: "The school/installation/command requires additional resources to undertake the mission(s) for which it was designed. It may undertake portions of its mission(s) consistent with resources available. Training deficiencies will have a significant impact on Army readiness."
The Army readiness documents were provided to a reporter by a retired officer. He said his motive is to shine light on the problem and to bolster Republican presidential nominee George W. Bush's contention that military readiness is declining.
The retired officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the shortfalls stem from declining Army budgets and an ongoing effort to transfer soldiers from support jobs to fill out the service's 10 active divisions.
He said C-4 ratings mean the Army is graduating soldiers whose quality "is not where it should be."
"The whole picture is alarming," he said.
Army special operations, an elite force thought to be immune from readiness woes, is also feeling the pinch at its John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School at Fort Bragg, N.C.
Maj. Gen. William G. Boykin, the commander, talked of shortages of radios, night-vision equipment and weapons systems.
"This mode of operation cannot be sustained another year without incurring unacceptable safety risks and severe training quality degradation," he said. "We must be resourced to a level that will allow us to meet current and planned course requirements."
Mr. Bush, the Texas governor, has accused President Clinton of letting readiness slip while the administration deployed troops on a record number of peacetime missions in the 1990s. Vice President Al Gore, the Democratic nominee, counters that the U.S. armed forces remain the world's best and that an influx of more budget dollars is beginning to help recruiting and retention.
A recent spot check by The Washington Times of officers in the field found them saying their units still lack proper equipment and training hours.
Defense analysts and military personnel say today's readiness problems are rooted in the early 1990s, when Mr. Clinton decided to cut military spending by $128 billion over six years. He then sent troops on scores of overseas deployments that drained spare parts, wore out equipment and depleted maintenance accounts.
Pilots and other skilled people began leaving the services in high numbers because of lost family time and better paying private-sector jobs.
Congress and the White House began bumping up defense spending two years ago, with special attention to increased pay and medical benefits.

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