Friday, September 28, 2007

Gates to Approve Expansion of Army

Goal Is 74,000 Soldiers Over 4 Years
By Ann Scott Tyson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 28, 2007; A02

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said yesterday that he intends to approve a $2.8 billion plan to accelerate the Army's growth by 74,000 soldiers over the next four years, even as the Army's top official suggested that the need for support troops in Iraq could grow -- rather than decrease -- as limited drawdowns of combat forces begin.

"The issue is, if the brigades come down, will the soldiers outside the brigades go up? If so, how much?" Army Secretary Pete Geren told defense reporters yesterday. "As the mission shifts more to training, more to supporting, what will be the requirements in those areas?"

The top U.S. commander in Iraq, Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, this month outlined a gradual reduction of about 21,700 combat troops from Iraq by next July, which would bring combat forces to their level before President Bush started the buildup in January. Although Petraeus has said that an eventual decline in support troops is likely, he indicated in testimony that the drawdown plan does not currently include the roughly 8,000 additional support troops that were part of the buildup, a point Gates reiterated in Senate testimony Wednesday.

Support forces constitute the majority of the 169,000 U.S. troops now in Iraq, and they take on many of the roles -- including those of military police, training teams for Iraqi forces, aviators, intelligence analysts and logistics personnel -- that would be critical to aiding Iraqi security forces as they try to take on greater responsibilities in the long run.

Geren said it is hard to predict how much the reduction of U.S. combat brigades in Iraq would ease the strain on the nation's main ground force. "If we do bring down the brigades, will that require more or less soldiers that are serving outside the brigades?" he asked, adding later that the decision would be Petraeus's.

The Army's plan to grow faster is based on what Geren said is the anticipation of "persistent conflict" involving U.S. ground forces in the coming decades. He said the Army has concluded that new recruiting and retention programs will allow it to accelerate by a year the growth of its ranks by 74,000 soldiers -- including 65,000 active-duty troops, 8,000 National Guard members and 1,000 reservists. The Army is currently made up of more than 1 million soldiers, with about half of them on active duty.

Geren pointed specifically to a new recruiting plan, under which more than 100,000 Army National Guard members earn a $1,000 bonus for each Guard recruit they bring in. That approach will also be used for the active-duty Army. Geren predicted that the program will yield 2,000 additional enlistees for the active-duty Army each year.

"There's no substitute for the block walkers," Geren said. The part-time National Guard recruiters who reach out to candidates in their communities, he said, are "a very effective recruiting tool."

At a Pentagon briefing, Gates said he favors the Army's new proposal to accelerate its growth so that it could better cope with the "cumulative effect of years of deployments." But he stressed that the plan to complete the growth by 2011 -- in four years, instead of five -- must not involve lowering standards. Instead, he said, he wants the Army to reverse a decline in the percentage of high school graduates it recruits and to "begin to move back toward the high standards of not too many months ago."

The Army, while saying that it is complying with Pentagon standards, has accepted a higher percentage of recruits with lower educational qualifications and test scores.

It has also accommodated more recruits with criminal records, substance-abuse histories or medical problems. Through July, nearly 18 percent of the Army's recruits in this fiscal year were admitted after obtaining waivers for having committed misdemeanors or felonies, having certain medical conditions or having drug or alcohol problems. For all of fiscal 2006, 15 percent of recruits required waivers.

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