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General warns Army must grow

WASHINGTON – Warning that the active-duty Army “will break” under the strain of today’s war zone rotations, the nation’s top Army general Thursday called for expanding the force by 7,000 or more soldiers a year and lifting Pentagon restrictions on involuntary call-ups of Army National Guard and Army Reserve troops.

Army Chief of Staff Gen. Peter Schoomaker issued his most dire assessment yet of the toll of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan on the nation’s main ground force. At one point, he banged his hand on a House committee room table, saying the continuation of today’s mistaken Pentagon policies was “not right.”

In particularly blunt testimony, Schoomaker said the Army began the Iraq war “flat footed” with a $56 billion equipment shortage and 500,000 fewer soldiers than during the 1991 Gulf War. Echoing the warnings from the post-Vietnam era, when then-Chief of Staff Gen. Edward Meyer in 1979 decried the “hollow Army,” Schoomaker said it is critical to make changes now to shore up the force for what he called a long and dangerous war.

“The Army is incapable of generating and sustaining the required forces to wage the global war on terror … without its components – active, Guard, and Reserve – surging together,” Schoomaker said in testimony before the congressionally mandated Commission on the National Guard and Reserves.

The burden on the Army’s 507,000 active-duty soldiers – who now spend more time at war than at home – is simply too great, he said. “At this pace, without recurrent access to the reserve components, through remobilization, we will break the active component,” he said, provoking murmurs around the hearing room.

The Army, which had 482,000 soldiers in 2001, had already planned to grow temporarily to 512,000. But the Army now seeks to make that increase permanent, and to continue increasing its ranks by 7,000 or more a year, Schoomaker said. He said the total increase was under discussion.

“I recommend we continue to grow the Army so that we have choices,” Schoomaker said, cautioning that it is ill-advised to assume a lower demand for U.S. troops overseas. “Our history is replete with examples where we have guessed wrong: 1941, 1950, 2001 to name a few,” he said. “We don’t know what’s ahead.”

In light of such a sober assessment, Schoomaker voiced skepticism over the idea of an infusion of U.S. ground troops into Iraq, a message sources said he and the other Joint Chiefs of Staff delivered to President Bush at the Pentagon on Wednesday.

“We should not surge without a purpose, and that purpose should be measurable and get us something,” he told reporters after the hearing.

Schoomaker’s highly public appeal for more troops and reserve call-ups appeared to be part of an Army campaign to lobby incoming Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who is to be sworn in Monday, to approve the desired policy changes as well as a significant increase in the Army budget.

The Army estimates that every 10,000 additional soldiers will cost about $1.2 billion a year, a price tag that has risen from $700 million in 2001 in part because of increased recruiting bonuses and other incentives. The Army will have to “gain additional resources to support that strategy,” Schoomaker acknowledged.

Two-thirds of Army units in the United States are now rated not ready to deploy.