- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 26, 2002

In the context of the war on terror, that's how some military professionals describe the operational demands on critical assets such as aircraft and ships, and the frequent realization that our military is again being called upon to do more with less. But one critical asset the number of soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines on active duty seems stretched to the limit. The size of the peacetime active duty force about 1.4 million people had to be augmented almost immediately by a call-up of tens of thousands of reservists, many of whom are still on active duty today. But the issue of enlisting more active-duty troops is one only rarely discussed.
The difficulty is not in getting people to join. In fiscal 2001, the Air Force had an enlistment rate of about 102 percent. The other services are doing almost as well. The Navy, for example, now has a waiting list for enlistees who have signed up, but are waiting for a space in the basic training facility before they can go. But those successful enlistment rates mask the real issue: The number of people on active duty are being asked to do too much, because the size of the war-fighting force is too small. Last March, Newsweek magazine published a comment made by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in a classified memo. In the Newsweek report, Mr. Rumsfeld was quoted as saying, "The entire force is facing the adverse results of the fast-paced optempo (pace of operations) and perstempo (personnel tempo). We are past the point where the department can, without an unbelievably compelling reason, make any additional commitments." In March, the Afghanistan campaign was essentially over. Iraq may have been the "unbelievably compelling" case Mr. Rumsfeld envisioned in March. But no action has been taken to increase the size of the force.
Mr. Rumsfeld has said that he is very reluctant to try to increase the military's manpower. It would, to be sure, be very expensive, and Mr. Rumsfeld is under considerable pressure from White House Budget Director Mitch Daniels to avoid adding more to the Defense Department budget. Mr. Rumsfeld is trying to avoid increasing manpower levels by reshuffling assignments from "tail" support roles to "tooth," the war-fighters. But that is not enough to meet the needs seen by the military leadership. According to our sources, all of the services sought manpower increases for 2003 for both reserves and active-duty personnel. The service leaders wanted increases ranging from about 2,500 more Marines to about 8,000 more Army troops. None of these increases was approved, and we are left with Mr. Rumsfeld's statement of the problem six months ago.
There are many ways to increase the size of the military if that is really necessary. Mr. Rumsfeld's approach to the problem, reassigning people to jobs more directly involved in the war, is a logical first step. If the need to increase the size of the force is real, there are several ways to do it, and all of them cost money. Mr. Rumsfeld should tell Congress whether the problem is really there and what it will take to fix it. Without a clear statement of the problem and the desired solution, we can only expect to hear more and more about the level of commitment our forces face, and the cost of not giving them the resources they need to meet them.

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