“You may fly over a land forever; you may bomb it, atomize it, pulverize it and wipe it clean of life — but if you desire to defend it, protect it and keep it for civilization, you must do this on the ground, the way the Roman legions did, by putting your young men into the mud.”
Those words, written nearly 40 years ago by my good friend T.R. Fehrenbach in the definitive work on the Korean War, “This Kind of War: A Study in Unpreparedness” — still ring true today. Our recent operations in Afghanistan and Iraq reinforce those very lessons. We prosecuted a very successful war, but if we are going to bring freedom and democracy to the Iraqi and Afghan people while preserving the peace elsewhere, we will need young men and women with their boots on the ground. I am increasingly concerned we don’t have enough soldiers and Marines to do all the jobs that must be done.
Shortly before he retired, Army Chief of Staff Eric Shinseki advised that postwar Iraq might require several hundred thousand soldiers and Marines to keep the peace. Gen. Shinseki commanded peacekeeping operations in both Bosnia and Kosovo, and he knows what it takes to get the job done right. But if we were to place several hundred thousand troops in Iraq, the unfortunate truth is that the Army may be stretched too thin elsewhere. Indeed, the man nominated to take his place, Gen. Peter J. Schoomaker, is another who apparently doesn’t shy from offering his frank opinion. He recently said, “Intuitively, I think we need more people. It’s as simple as that.”
When the first Gulf War ended, the Department of Defense cashed in a peace dividend from the end of the Cold War when it lowered the strength of the U.S. Army active forces from 750,000 to 535,000 troops. That cut was necessary, but then they cut more and in doing so, reduced the Army’s active strength to 491,000 — too low for our current requirements.
Today, in addition to the 491,000 active-duty Army soldiers, there are 550,000 members of the Reserve and National Guard. In order to keep 370,000 of our soldiers deployed to more than 100 countries, we have called to active duty an unprecedented 136,000 members of the Reserve and National Guard.
There is an abundance of anecdotal evidence of the toll this overuse is taking on our troops. Recently, I talked to family members of some reserve units who have seen their loved ones deployed again and again. They are proud of their service but made it clear that, when their tour of duty is over, they will be hanging up their boots and leaving the Reserve. This is not an isolated view. Many senior members of our military have candidly expressed concerns that we are asking our Reserves to deploy too often. They believe it may hurt our efforts to recruit new reservists and retain the ones we have.
The Army recently announced a sound plan to replace units in Iraq with a mix of active-duty and reserve forces. When our units in Kosovo, Bosnia and the Sinai Peninsula complete their six-month rotations, they will be replaced with National Guard units. There is no question they can do the job. But should they? This rotation plan only serves as a tacit admission that we need more force structure. Our guard members and reservists signed up to defend our nation in times of national emergency and stand ready to do just that. They never expected to augment the day-to-day missions of active-duty forces.
In the months ahead, the Pentagon promises numerous studies to examine the impact of answering the calls worldwide. But these studies are addressing the symptoms and not the illness.
We must not balance the tempo of how and when we use Reserve units on the backs of active-duty units, and vice versa. We need more troops or fewer missions. Before we lose too many trained and qualified reservists, I hope we address the critical issue: Do we have enough Army and Marine active- duty members for the post-September 11 era of national security? My view is: We do not.
Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison is chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Construction and vice chairman of the Senate Republican Conference.
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