Have wars in Afghanistan and Iraq overstretched America's military? Many experts say yes. According to Pentagon guidelines only one-third of the Army's divisions should be deployed at any one time, to give forces time to retrain and prepare for the next mission. But eight of the Army's 10 active divisions (each averaging about 15,000 troops) are either in Iraq now, preparing to go, or have recently returned. According to the Senate Armed Services Committee, 31 of the Army's 33 combat brigades will have been deployed for combat since March 2003.
Is the Military Too Reliant on the Reserves?
About half of the 135,000 troops currently in Iraq are members of the National Guard or reserves. But many of the "nation-building" specialties now in demand in Iraq are extremely dependent on the reserves two-thirds of the America's military police, 70 percent of engineering units and nearly all of the civil-affairs units now in Iraq are staffed by reservists.
The Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal, in which members of two military police reserve units have been implicated, has raised many questions about the level of training given to members of the reserves, and whether they have been adequately prepared for the missions they are being asked to perform. Americans seem to be split on whether part-time soldiers are adequately trained to do the job. Forty-six percent of respondents to the Flashpoints USA with Bryant Gumbel and Gwen Ifill nationwide survey agreed with the statement "It is a mistake to have National Guard and reserve troops patrolling the streets in Baghdad and guarding prisoners"; 51% disagreed.
America's reliance on reservists also has major social and economic impacts. Many of the members of the National Guard and reserves signed up as "weekend warriors" to earn extra money or help pay for their college education. They signed up expecting a commitment of one weekend a month and two weeks a year, but 155,000 reservists are currently deployed full-time. Many will be gone from their families and jobs for up to 18 months at a time, and some have been called up more than once. Many employers pay the difference between reservists' military and civilian salaries, but they're not required to. According to the Reserve Officers Association, one-third of reservists called to duty for the 1991 Gulf War lost money during their activation.
The situation is also taking a toll on employers. When reservists are called up for active duty, federal law requires that their employers keep their jobs open for up to five years. According to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, 70 percent of reservists called up for active duty come from small- to medium-sized companies, many of which have trouble finding temporary replacement workers. Some companies are even struggling to stay in business without key personnel.
Is the Military too Small?
There are currently 482,200 active duty troops in the U.S. Army, and another 700,000 in the National Guard and Army Reserve. That's about a third less than when the U.S. fought the 1991 Persian Gulf War.
The Pentagon has already used emergency authority to temporarily expand the size of the Army by about 30,000 troops.
On June 24, the U.S. Senate passed by a vote of 93 to 4 a measure introduced by Senators Jack Reed (D-R.I.) and Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) to expand the end strength of the United States Army by about 20,000 soldiers. The provision, an amendment to the must-pass Defense Authorization bill, would raise the active duty strength of the Army to 502,400. This increase would cost approximately $1.7 billion per year, according to the Congressional Budget Office. The cost would be paid for through emergency funds in 2005, but would be included in the Army's regular budget.
Should We Bring Back the Draft?
A common criticism of the military is that it does not accurately reflect the makeup of the nation, with minorities and lower-income groups disproportionately represented. In his interview with Gwen Ifill, Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) remarked, "the all-volunteer force in many, many ways has succeeded. It's given us a highly trained, professional regular military. Where it has not succeeded is drawing into it Americans from all walks of life."
Several members of Congress have called for a new draft as a way to spread military service more evenly across the economic spectrum. And some have even called for mandatory military service by all young adults. The Universal National Service Act of 2003, sponsored by Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Fritz Hollings (D-S.C.) was introduced in the House of Representatives on January 7, 2003. The bill, if passed, would require that all Americans age 18-26, including women, "perform a period of military service or a period of civilian service in furtherance of the national defense and homeland security, and for other purposes." The bill was widely seen as a protest against the war in Iraq rather than a serious attempt to revive the draft. In an op-ed piece in The New York Times, Rangel wrote that if "those [in Congress and the administration] calling for war knew that their children were likely to be required to serve...there would be more caution and a greater willingness to work with the international community in dealing with Iraq." Both the House and Senate versions of the bill have been stalled in committee for over a year, and no congressional action is expected.
While Congressional and administration sources say the chances of a new draft are remote, the military is preparing contingency plans, just in case. In late 2003, the Selective Service System began quietly filling vacancies in local draft boards around the country, and has begun creating procedures for a "special skills" draft of linguists and computer specialists, in the event that the administration asks for and Congress approves a draft.
According to the Flashpoints USA with Bryant Gumbel and Gwen Ifill nationwide survey, a solid majority of Americans oppose bringing back the draft. Sixty-eight percent of respondents somewhat disagreed or strongly disagreed with the statement "A military draft should be instituted in the U.S. to ensure we have enough troops to carry out large-scale missions such as the war in Iraq in the future."
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