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Commentary

New moves set stage for a stronger, combat-ready U.S. Army force

By R.L. Brownlee, Acting Army Secretary
and
Gen. Peter J. Schoomaker, Army Chief of Staff


      WASHINGTON, D.C. (Army News Service) The last few weeks have seen a lot of discussion - much of it confusing or inaccurate - about the condition and future readiness of the U.S. Army. We owe it to our men and women in uniform, their families, and our country to get the facts right.

       No one disputes that there are currently strains on certain segments of our armed forces. A solution some offer is to increase the permanent end strength of our Army. But simply adding to the total number of people in uniform does not really get to the heart of the problem.

      Let us explain. Today our Army has a total force of more than 1 million Soldiers. Yet the vast majority of our Army is not currently deployed. 

      Approximately 123,000 - or less than 12 percent of the total force - support operations in Iraq or Afghanistan. In fact, 123,000 members of the 350,000-strong Army National Guard have not been called up.

      Overall, 270,000 Soldiers are forward deployed in more than 120 countries, but with a total force in excess of 1 million, this should not stretch the force. Yet, it does. The strain on the force is caused by a force structure that was built for the Cold War. The solution to the problem is to create the right number of deployable Soldiers with the right skills in the right component.

      This is why Army Transformation is so critical. And so today, our Army is in the midst of the most sweeping Transformation since World War II to significantly increase the number of deployable Soldiers and units available around the world.

      Army transformation is proceeding along three main avenues.
First, we are restructuring the force into modular formations with the right capabilities for our current and future security environment. This restructuring increases the number of active-duty combat brigades from 33 to 43 or more, using a combination of new recruits and Soldiers drawn from other parts of our Army. Our goal is an Army with more cohesive and combat-ready formations.

      Second, we are stabilizing the force with initiatives that will eventually allow most Soldiers to remain based at a single installation for longer periods of time. Stabilization will yield a more predictable lifestyle for our Soldiers and their families.

      Third, we are rebalancing our force between the active component of the Army, the Army National Guard and the Army Reserve. This initiative will give our Army more troops available with the skills we need to fight the Global War on Terrorism.

      The Department of Defense is expanding our active Army rapidly without sacrificing standards or quality, using emergency authorities. 

      And we plan to grow the active component of the Army by a total of 30,000 troops over the next three years. It is important to note the difference between growing our Army - a temporary measure granted under the Global War on Terrorism authorities and paid for with supplemental dollars - and increasing permanent end strength.

      A mandated increase in permanent end strength means that the U.S. Army would be required by law to maintain tens of thousands of additional troops on the payrolls, regardless of the need or the cost, and pay for them out of the Army's core budget. A mandated increase in permanent end strength would take away dollars needed for current and future programs, and threaten our transformation.

      We are already growing our Army about as fast as we can. Our Soldiers are highly skilled and well trained, and it takes time and a significant training base to develop them. This deliberate growth will allow us to transform our Army in a way that gets at the heart of the problem, relieves the stress on the force, and does not sacrifice our Army's future.

      We are able to grow our Army today because retention and recruiting remain very strong. Despite the obvious dangers, hardships, and sacrifices, tens of thousands of qualified Soldiers choose to join or stay in the U.S. Army every year. In the active Army, Reserves and National Guard, we are meeting our retention goals for this fiscal year. We are also close to meeting our recruitment targets, even as our Army increased those recruiting targets by several thousand this year.

      Transforming the force while fighting in Iraq, Afghanistan and other theaters in the war on terror is a tough management and leadership challenge. It is not unlike tuning an engine while the car is moving - complex, and potentially dangerous.

      But when large organizations face demanding new circumstances, they must change to meet those challenges. Our circumstances today, as an Army serving our nation at war, are providing a tremendous strategic opportunity. 

     The convergence of our current momentum, our focus and the increased resources provided by Congress, over our core budget, in this time of war provide an opportunity for change that we cannot afford to miss.

     Simply stated, we have an ambitious task ahead, but with the continued support of the American people, we will get it done. As we overcome these challenges, our all-volunteer Army of active, Reserve and National Guard Soldiers are serving with tremendous skill and courage around the world. We are honored to serve with each and every one of them.

      Rest assured that our Army is not only taking actions to be successful today, but we are seizing an opportunity to remain relevant and ready tomorrow.

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