US Army is broke


Richard Moore

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Despite a $168B budget, Army faces cash crunch
Tuesday, December 12, 2006
By Greg Jaffe, The Wall Street Journal

FORT STEWART, Ga. -- With just six weeks before they leave for Iraq, the 3,500 
soldiers from the Third Infantry Division's First Brigade should be learning 
about Ramadi, the insurgent stronghold where they will spend a year.

Many of the troops don't even know the basic ethnic makeup of the largely Sunni 
city. "We haven't spent as much time as I would like on learning the local 
culture, language, and politics -- all the stuff that takes a while to really 
get good at," says Lt. Col. Clifford Wheeler, who commands one of the brigade's 
800-soldier units.

Instead, the troops are learning to use equipment that commanders say they 
should ideally have been training with since the spring. Many soldiers only 
recently received their new M-4 rifles and rifle sights, which are in short 
supply because of an Army-wide cash crunch. Some still lack their machine guns 
or long-range surveillance systems, which are used to spot insurgents laying 
down roadside bombs. They've been told they'll pick up most of that when they 
get to Iraq.

The strains here at Fort Stewart -- one of the busiest posts in the U.S. 
military -- are apparent throughout the Army. They spotlight a historic 
predicament: The Iraq war has exposed more than a decade's worth of mistakes and
miscalculations that are now seriously undermining the world's mightiest 
military force.

In the 15 years after the Cold War, senior military planners and 
civilian-defense officials didn't build a force geared to fighting long, 
grinding guerrilla wars, like Iraq and Afghanistan. Instead they banked on 
fighting quick wars, dominated by high-tech weapons systems.

The result: At a time when the war in Iraq is deepening, and debate over pulling
out the troops is intensifying, the rising cost of waging the fight is outpacing
even the Army's huge budget. The financial squeeze is leaving the Army short of 
equipment and key personnel.

The situation has the Army seeking billions more for next year, even as younger 
officers, frustrated with the pace of change, say that any improvements depend 
more on how the money is spent than on how much is spent.

From 1990 to 2005, the military lavished money on billion-dollar destroyers, 
fighter jets and missile-defense systems. Defenders of such programs say the 
U.S. faces a broad array of threats and must be prepared for all of them. 
High-tech weaponry contributed to the swift toppling of the regimes in Iraq and 
Afghanistan, but has been of little help in the more difficult task of 
stabilizing the two countries.

Of the $1.9 trillion the U.S. spent on weaponry in that period, adjusted for 
inflation, the Air Force received 36 percent and the Navy got 33 percent. The 
Army took in 16 percent, it says. Despite the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, both
dominated by ground forces, the ratio hasn't changed significantly.

Overly optimistic predictions by the Bush administration -- and the Army -- have
made the Army's budget crunch worse. Both assumed troop numbers in Iraq would 
drop significantly by 2006 and the Army wouldn't need as much money as it 
initially requested. Instead, costs have soared, forcing front-line commanders 
and Pentagon generals to try to meet an ever-growing list of demands with 
insufficient resources.

"Our ground forces have been stretched nearly to the breaking point," warned the
bipartisan Iraq Study Group in its recent report. "The defense budget as a whole
is in danger of disarray."

It may seem hard to believe that a country which allocated $168 billion to the 
Army this year -- more than twice the 2000 budget -- can't cover the costs of 
the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. But the two pillars of the Army, personnel and
equipment -- both built to wage high-tech, firepower-intensive wars -- are under
enormous stress:

-- The cost of basic equipment that soldiers carry into battle -- helmets, 
rifles, body armor -- has more than tripled to $25,000 from $7,000 in 1999.

-- The cost of a Humvee, with all the added armor, guns, electronic jammers and 
satellite-navigational systems, has grown seven-fold to about $225,000 a vehicle
from $32,000 in 2001.

-- The cost of paying and training troops has grown 60 percent to about $120,000
per soldier, up from $75,000 in 2001. On the reserve side, such costs have 
doubled since 2001, to about $34,000 per soldier.

At Fort Knox, Ky., the cash crunch got so bad this summer that the Army ran out 
of money to pay janitors who clean the classrooms where captains are taught to 
be commanders. So the officers, who will soon be leading 100-soldier units, 
clean the office toilets themselves.

"The cost of the Army is being driven up by (Iraq and Afghanistan). That's the 
fundamental story here," says Brig. Gen. Andrew Twomey, a senior official on the
Army staff in the Pentagon. The increased costs are "not from some wild weapons 
system that is off in the future. These are costs associated with current 

Senior Army officials concede they mistakenly assumed prior to the Iraq war that
if they built a force capable of winning big conventional battles, everything 
else -- from counterinsurgency to peacekeeping -- would be relatively easy. "We 
argued in those days that if we could do the top-end skills, we could do all of 
the other ones," says Lt. Gen. Thomas Metz, the deputy commander of the Army's 
Training and Doctrine Command. Iraq has proven that guerrilla fights demand 
different equipment and skills. "I have had to eat a little crow," says Gen. 

Army officials say they are doing their best to ensure that Iraq and 
Afghanistan-bound brigades have all the equipment they need when they arrive in 
the war zone. But to do this, they have had to take equipment from units 
training back home, which are now short of even the most basic gear, such as 
body armor and rifles.

The equipment shortages explain why Gen. John Abizaid, the top commander in the 
Middle East, recently told lawmakers that the U.S. couldn't maintain even a 
relatively small increase of 20,000 soldiers in Iraq for more than a few months.
"The ability to sustain that commitment is simply not something that we have 
right now," he testified in November.

The other big strain on the Army is a shortage of people. The Army has made much
of the fact that it met its recruiting goals for 2006, bringing in 80,000 
soldiers. But meeting those goals has come at a heavy cost. The Army spent about
$735 million on retention bonuses in 2006 to keep battle-weary troops in the 
service, up from about $85 million in 2003. And it had to pay about $300 million
more on recruiting this year compared to the year before.

The extra cash didn't stop the Army from having to lower standards. Although the
quality of the force is still considered good, 8,500 recruits in 2006 required 
"moral waivers" for criminal misconduct or past drug use -- more than triple the
2,260 waivers the Army issued 10 years ago. The Army also took in more troops 
who scored in the bottom third on its aptitude test.

As it has brought in more borderline recruits, the Army has found itself short 
of officers and sergeants. Today, it is down about 3,000 active-duty officers, a
deficiency that it says will grow to about 3,700 in 2008. It is short more than 
7,500 reserve and National Guard officers, according to internal Army documents.

One of the most pressing personnel problems is the lack of sergeants, the 
enlisted leaders who do most of the day-to-day supervising of the rank-and-file 

At Fort Hood, Texas, the Third Armored Cavalry Regiment, which returned from 
Iraq in March, has about 75 percent of the soldiers it needs to fill its ranks, 
but only about half of its sergeants. The 5,000-soldier unit likely will go back
to Iraq in the fall of next year, and leaders in the regiment say they will get 
more sergeants before they deploy, but not as many as they would like.

"The sergeant is the one that the soldiers take after," says First Sgt. James 
Adcock, who oversees about 130 of the unit's soldiers. "He can make or break how
effective the privates are."

The large number of young soldiers in the unit combined with the shortage of 
sergeants has led to problems, say the regiment's leaders. Some also blame the 
Army's decision to scale back recruiting standards and push more troops through 
basic training. In May 2005, about 18 percent of Army's recruits were asked to 
leave before completing initial training. Today, only about 6 percent of 
recruits fail to make it through.

The troops who a year ago might have flunked out of basic training seem to stick
with their units, according to Army statistics. But some sergeants say they also
seem to cause more problems. Sgt. First Class Rajesh Harripersad, who oversees a
30-soldier platoon, says two of his soldiers were caught using marijuana and 
methamphetamines. Other leaders have seen an increase in accidents on and off 
the base. "Discipline has been worse for me this time," says Sgt. Harripersad.

Once units deploy to Iraq and Afghanistan, the Army-wide shortage of officers 
and sergeants is felt even more acutely. Teams focused on key jobs, such as 
reconstruction and Iraq governance, are "woefully undermanned," Col. Bill Hix, a
senior Pentagon strategist, recently wrote in the Hoover Digest, a Stanford 
University policy journal. Multiple internal Army studies have concluded that 
the military advisory teams, charged with developing Iraqi Army forces so U.S. 
troops can go home, need to be doubled or tripled in size.

Often, the soldiers who serve on these undermanned teams finish their year-long 
deployments wondering what they have accomplished. "I would say we're an 
effective force for good, but we're struggling in a sea of meaningless slaughter
-- along with everyone else with a job to do here," says Sgt. Mastin Greene, who
serves on a reconstruction team in Baghdad.

Some of the Army's problems are a product of its failure to prepare for a 
guerrilla fight in which there are no front lines. Just prior to the Iraq war, 
the Army was buying body armor at such a slow rate that it would have taken 48 
years to outfit the entire force. It invested huge sums in the years leading up 
to Iraq in Humvees with canvas doors that are useless for war today.

"The fact that we had certain grim realities that were inescapable for anyone 
who wore a uniform in a combat zone just wasn't something that was driving our 
weapons programming," says Maj. Gen. Stephen Speakes, who oversees equipping 
Army units. Army officials now say that they entered the war short of about $56 
billion of essential equipment.

The Humvee stands as a metaphor for the problems the Army faces. First fielded 
in the early 1980s, it was designed to ferry soldiers around behind the front 
lines of a conventional war. In recent years, the vehicle, which troops drive on
the streets of Iraq, has been modified countless times. The Army has bolted 
layers of armor onto it to protect troops from roadside bombs. It has added 
sophisticated electronic jammers, rotating turrets, bigger machine guns, 
satellite navigational systems and better radios.

The result is a Humvee that is much better than the version the Army took to 
Iraq in 2003. But the add-ons have driven up its cost. The modified vehicle is 
top heavy and tends to tip over at high speeds. Army officials say they can't 
add more weight without overwhelming the engine or breaking the axle.

"The Army recognizes that the Humvee has reached a limit of our ability to 
improve it for the current fight," Gen. Speakes says.

What the Army says it really needs is an all-new vehicle, designed to better 
withstand roadside bombs that have become part of life in Iraq. But such a 
vehicle likely won't be ready until 2010 or 2012, Army officials say. In the 
interim, the Army wants to buy something on the commercial market -- South 
Africa, Turkey and Australia all make alternatives. Yet it's not clear whether 
the Army, which is struggling to equip the current force, has the money.

The Army has told the Bush administration it needs about $24 billion more to pay
its bills in 2007. Some key lawmakers, such as Democratic Sen. Jack Reed of 
Rhode Island and Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona, have called for a 
bigger Army. But there are also pressures to restrain spending.

To cover cash shortfalls, Army posts around the country this summer laid off 
janitorial crews, closed swimming pools and didn't cut the grass.

In the Pentagon, Army generals cut $3 billion in 2005 and 2006 from programs for
weapons that are in heavy use in Iraq, such as armored patrol vehicles, trucks, 
radios and unmanned surveillance planes, according to Army documents. In June, 
for example, the Army set aside about $50 million to buy more long-range radios,
which are used heavily in Iraq. One month later, Army officials, who were short 
about $1.5 billion to make end-of-year payroll, took the money back. Army 
brigades are supposed to have about 1,300 radios. Today, the average brigade 
makes do with about 1,100.

The shortages have been especially hard on the National Guard, which in some 
states has only about 40 percent of the authorized equipment for homeland 
defense missions, says Gen. Speakes.

Active-duty troops preparing to go off to war at bases such as Fort Stewart, 
Ga., feel the crunch as well. First Sgt. Bradley Feltman, who will leave in 
January for his second year-long tour in three years, says his troop was short 
of Humvees to train on and had only 25 percent of the mounts it needed for its 
machine guns. The lack of equipment hindered the unit's ability to train as an 
entire 130-man unit. Instead, they trained one 30-soldier platoon at a time.

"We got training, but not graduate-level training. In a couple of months, my 
guys are going to be busting down doors, and it will be the first time they see 
some of their equipment for real," he says.

At Fort Hood, the Third Armored Cavalry Regiment, which returned from Iraq in 
March and will go back in fall 2007, is already worried about time to prepare. 
The regiment will spend most of the winter receiving new soldiers, fielding new 
equipment and learning to use it. The regiment left most of its tanks and 
Humvees in Iraq for follow-on units.

That means troops won't have much time to train for other critical tasks. Junior
leaders need to know everything from how to assess a water plant to the tribal 
politics of the area where they are deploying, says Lt. Col. Paul Yingling, the 
unit's deputy commander. They must know enough Arabic to interact with locals.

"It is incredibly frustrating for combat veterans to return to Iraq for the 
third time with only minimal training on the skills we know are essential, like 
language, culture, intelligence and local security force development" Col. 
Yingling says. "Army units don't fail to train on these tasks because we're 
stupid or lazy; we fail because we don't have the time to do it right."

What kind of Army emerges from its searing experience in Iraq will depend, in 
part, on how long the U.S. stays there and the foreign-policy goals that 
civilian leaders set in its aftermath. President Bush has said that the best way
to protect the nation is to spread democracy. The experience in Iraq 
demonstrates that such a strategy requires a bigger Army that is more skilled in
tasks such as building indigenous forces, fostering local government and 
economic development. "Revolutionary approaches require a lot of resources," 
says Conrad Crane, the lead author of the Army's new counterinsurgency doctrine.

A less-ambitious foreign policy that seeks to promote stability and preserve the
status quo could reduce the pressure to build a bigger Army with a broader array
of skills.

The other big variable is how the Army -- particularly officers now in their 20s
and 30s -- reacts to the traumatic experience in Iraq. "We as an Army tend to 
learn generationally," says Col. Michael Meese, who heads the department of 
social sciences at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.

Today's four-star generals, who joined the service in the early 1970s, spent 
most of their careers rebuilding an Army that had been badly damaged by Vietnam.
Officers who came of age in the 1980s and are now colonels and generals were 
shaped by the Cold War. Their focus was on how to defeat a Soviet-style army.

Today's younger officers, whose defining experiences have been in Iraq and 
Afghanistan, see the world differently. The gulf was clear last month in their 
reaction to the dismissal of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. Many senior 
officers quietly celebrated his departure. Like the retired generals who earlier
this year called for Mr. Rumsfeld to be fired, they placed the blame for the 
Army's failures in Iraq largely on his shoulders.

Junior officers were more indifferent. They tended to view Mr. Rumsfeld as "part
of a larger problem that hasn't been solved yet," says Kalev Sepp, a former 
Special Forces officer who worked extensively in Iraq. Among many of these 
officers, there is great frustration not just with the defense secretary but 
also with the generals who serve above them.

"Junior officers know that success in these wars is about a lot more than 
killing the enemy. It depends on providing security for the people, finding 
friends and fixing infrastructure," says Maj. John Prior, who served as a 
company commander in Baghdad. "A lot of senior officers just don't get it."

While the Army's new draft counterinsurgency doctrine sounds these same themes, 
senior commanders in Iraq have been slow to embrace them. The doctrine says 
troops must live among the Iraqi people, on small bases run by junior leaders. 
But since 2004, commanders have consolidated U.S. troops on 55 large fortified 
bases, down from about 110 a year ago.

The new doctrine says that when battling an insurgency, reconstruction dollars 
are as important as ammunition. In recent months, though, more restrictions have
been placed on how junior leaders can spend money in their sectors. "What's 
funny is that all politics and services are local, so the (junior) commanders 
need the greatest flexibility" said Brig. Gen. Ed Cardon, who returned from Iraq
this year, in an interview compiled by the Army for its oral-history archives. 
"Why don't we just trust the commander who said he spent $100?"

Some question how quickly the Army will be able to shift its thinking. "All our 
organizations are designed around the least important line of operations in 
these fights -- combat operations," says Col. Yingling. "If you spend your whole
career in tanks, you tend to see the solution to every problem as a tank."

opyright © PG Publishing Co., Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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