The Army’s 10th Mountain Division, which came under scrutiny when George W. Bush said it was not ready for war and the Army contradicted him, is persistently short on personnel in some critically important positions, a new study says.
Most platoons lack a leading sergeant, less-experienced lieutenants fill captains’ jobs and there is not enough training ammunition, according to a report by a Senate staffer who visited the 10th in August.
Army officials challenged the aide’s findings, calling them inaccurate and “unbalanced.”
Says the staffer’s report, “The 10th Mountain is today experiencing multiple, serious shortages of people and material resources, training deficiencies and other impediments to readiness.
“The division is short of critical basics, such as road marching gear and lightweight machine gun tripods,” the defense analyst’s 29-page report says.
One commander describes manning shortages as “very bad and not getting better.”
The report adds, however, “The character, enthusiasm and professionalism of the officers, noncommissioned officers and enlisted men and women in the 10th Mountain Division is impressive.” The division also boasts an excellent retention rate, a trend attributed to good leadership and morale.
An Army official who asked not to be named took issue with the staffer’s findings in a sharply worded prepared statement.
The official said: “This leaked report, written by a congressional staffer, is presented out of context. It’s misleading and written with an agenda. The Army accurately portrayed all challenges to the staffer on his draft report to no avail.”
A second Army official said the investigator relied too often on “some privates whose length of time in the Army is measured in weeks and months, not years.”
“The 10th Mountain Division is ready,” this official said. “The evidence for this assessment is documented in the numerous operational deployments. When the nation called, we were ready.”
The official said many Army units, not just the 10th, are experiencing personnel shortages.
“We do not have materiel shortages,” he said. “I told him it simply was not the case. In fact, the items he referred to were new pieces of equipment being introduced into the system that have not caught up yet.”
The 10th, an 8,400-soldier light infantry division at Fort Drum near Watertown in upstate New York, has been the focus of an intense debate over military readiness.
The Army acknowledged earlier this year the oft-deployed division fell to the lowest possible readiness rating C-4. The commanding general, Maj. General James Campbell, downgraded his division during and after six months of peacekeeping in Bosnia. He found that the noncombat stint left soldiers unavailable for immediate deployment to a major regional conflict.
“The commander had the spine and ethics to say ‘we’re not ready,’ ” said the Senate staffer, who released his report on condition neither he nor his committee be identified.
The Army rectified the low rating through more training. But it also corrected the problem merely through paperwork. According to the report, rather than requiring immediate deployment, the Army gave the unit 120 days to ramp up.
“This can be regarded as a significant downgrading of the standards of the rating system,” the report says.
Months later, Republican presidential candidate Bush declared the 10th unable to report for duty. Democrats accused him of reciting outdated news. Gen. Henry Shelton, Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman, disputed Mr. Bush the next day.
The Senate report’s author periodically visits military installations and files “trip reports.” His last evaluation panned Air Force and Navy pilot training, saying two visited facilities lacked needed aircraft and bomb-target equipment. His Navy findings were confirmed this spring by a Navy inspector general report. It concluded naval aviation has a “big problem.”
The Senate report confirms the 10th’s higher readiness rating but also lays out war scenarios in which the division would encounter problems due to soldier shortages.
The division is one of the most deployed among the Army’s 10 active divisions. Elements have landed in Somalia, Haiti and Bosnia. Mountain soldiers plan to return to Bosnia next summer and conduct peacekeeping in Kosovo in 2002.
At Fort Drum, members of one artillery unit said they would not be able to protect their perimeter because they man each cannon with five soldiers instead of the required seven.
The report says the division is 96 percent of authorized strength, but the gap is worsened by having combat soldiers peeled off to perform base operating chores.
It quotes one soldier as saying “The [division] only looks good on paper.”
Another division member said, “There are two different armies; the one described in Washington, and the one that exists.”
Soldiers have told The Washington Times they believe Army leaders downplay readiness shortfalls in the field to avoid angering the White House.
Mr. Bush and Democratic nominee Al Gore are locked in a tight presidential race. One of Mr. Bush’s main campaign themes is what he terms a declining military under President Clinton’s watch.
The Senate report concludes, “In sum, on any given day, the division is not manned with the number of people required for a division and the combat and combat support units are not fully manned with the people specifically assigned to the division… . Combat units are forced to train and operate with a number of soldiers that may be just 75 percent of the authorized level and may be only about half the optimum number.”
In 38 of 60 platoons, the platoon sergeant position was filled by a lower grade. The division also has a shortage of captains and majors, the report states.