- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 28, 2004

With troops deployed in Iraq, Afghanistan, the Balkans and elsewhere, and with ongoing homeland security operations and the threat of a catastrophic terror attack at home, it’s no secret that the military is overstretched. Anecdotal reports from field commanders suggest as much, and the testimony of our nation’s top military officials regularly confirms it.

The questions of the next decade, then, will be questions of manpower and means: How many active-duty uniformed personnel will the United States need? What kinds of changes must be made to maintain readiness? How should we use reservists and guardsmen? What aspects of the Pentagon’s defense transformation plans will help meet our manpower needs? Will any harm them? What further steps should the Pentagon take that it isn’t already considering? These questions of means need honest answers for the war on terror to succeed.

This page intends to offer some tentative answers to them over the next few months as President Bush builds a national security strategy for his second term and as the Pentagon manages commitments in Iraq and elsewhere. By way of beginning, it’s worth pondering the profound staying power of Cold War-era organization and management in the contemporary military, and the significant ongoing challenges of converting to a forward-deployed antiterror force. This isn’t carping from the think-tank sidelines. It presses on the minds of our top military and civilian official on a daily basis.

“Today we have three armies,” Army Chief of Staff Peter J. Schoomaker told the House Armed Services Committee last week. “We have an Army that was built the way it was for the Cold War; we have an Army that is task-organized, troop-detached in the war fight, in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere in the world; and we have an Army that we’re building for the future.” This is a tactful way of saying the United States is deploying a once and future army: Built for a bygone conflict and striving to modernize for the future, it currently organizes in “task-organized” and “troop-detached” ways. The general didn’t call the force “expeditionary,” as many defense analysts do nowadays. He seemed to be suggesting that we fight by ad hoc improvisation, not by deliberate planning as we should.

ThenumbersGen. Schoomaker cited to make his point are enough to give anyone pause. About 650,000 soldiers are on active duty today, he said, well above the law’s stipulated limit of 480,000. Approximately 200,000 are receiving overstrength or other special pay — evidence that somewhere near one-third of our forces are engaged in unanticipated or otherwise extraordinary deployment. Most disturbing in Gen. Schoomaker’s testimony was the news that 145,000 of the active-duty total are reservists. With so many reservists deployed overseas, what happens in the event of a catastrophic terror attack at home?

The obvious answer is that disaster ensues. To prevent such a scenario, some novel thinking is in order to determine what quantities are necessary and where to deploy people and resources. In the current issue of the Weekly Standard, Tom Donnelly and Vance Serchuk posit that an increase of 100,000 active-duty personnel and an increase in the annual defense budget to between $500 billion and $600 billion are good places to start. We’ll be revisiting their analysis and those of other defense experts in the coming months and examining specific reforms and proposals — as much as the overall deployment and funding levels advocates like Messrs. Donnelly and Serchuk are proposing. The nation must continue thinking in earnest about how to make our means meet the ends we’ve assigned them. The war on terror and the nation’s security require it.

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