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ONE-YEAR ANNIVERSARY SPECIAL REPORT

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Glimpses of life in a war-torn country by GNS national security correspondent John Yaukey and photo director Jeff Franko.

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January 26, 2005

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Wednesday, October 1

Guard and Reserve essential to U.S. military operations

By The Des Moines Register

WASHINGTON - With tens of thousands of troops deployed around the world, U.S. leaders face a hard fact: It is becoming impossible for the United States to go to war without calling National Guard and Reserve forces to active duty.

Army Guard and Army Reserve units provide 100 percent of the Army's chemical brigades and water supply battalions, 85 percent of medical brigades, 82 percent of the public affairs personnel, 81 percent of psychological operations units, 70 percent of engineering battalions, and 66 percent of military police battalions.

Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve contribute 100 percent of weather reconnaissance, 64 percent of tactical airlift, 57 percent of combat search and rescue, and 55 percent of aerial refueling and strategic tankers, Pentagon officials said.

Since the 1991 Persian Gulf War, the full-time military has been cut by 29 percent, to 1.4 million service members.

"There are simply not enough bodies to go around," said Thomas Donnelly, a national security scholar at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington.

A Congressional Budget Office study issued in early September raises questions about the United States' ability to sustain occupation forces in Iraq without the reserves. Alternatives to depending on citizen-soldiers would be costly and a long time coming.

If the United States relies primarily on the active-duty Army to carry out the occupation of Iraq while maintaining the U.S. presence in Korea, Afghanistan, the Balkans and elsewhere, the nation can maintain only 38,000 to 64,000 soldiers in Iraq over the long term. Even using the Army National Guard, plus Marines as peacekeepers, the report estimates the United States could only sustain 67,000 to 106,000 troops in Iraq for the long term.

The nation's heavy dependence upon the National Guard and Reserve dates to the 1970s, when the draft was ended in favor of an all-volunteer military. The all-volunteer force needed highly skilled labor, and one way to obtain that was to depend more upon the Guard and Reserve. And military leaders, feeling burned by the Vietnam War, believed the Guard and Reserve would be a link to the civilian world.

Despite heavy commitments of active-duty forces for current global military commitments, and complaints that the 10-division U.S. Army is being required to do the work of a 12-division army, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has said he had seen no evidence yet that the nation's active-duty troop strength should be increased.

The Congressional Budget Office estimates that adding two new Army divisions would cost up to $19.4 billion in one-time costs, would add another $9.5 billion to $10.1 billion to the annual defense budget and would take from three to five years to field with new troops.

Others believe the Defense Department should explore alternatives. The U.S. Marine Corps, which has about 170,000 members, plus a reserve division, could be used more often, said Marcus Corbin, a senior analyst at the Center for Defense Information.

Rumsfeld said this summer that defense officials plan to shift some military assignments from the National Guard and Reserve to active-duty forces, and vice versa. The changes - still under review - should start taking effect in the 2004 federal budget year, Pentagon officials said.

"This way, we will not have to continue to reach into the Guard and Reserves for the same set of skills, resulting in a situation where you call up the same people too frequently," Rumsfeld said. "That's not what they signed up for."