The Journal Editorial Report | December 17, 2004 | PBS
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Briefing and Opinion
December 17, 2004

Evolution of the Forces
Donald Rumsfeld with troops in Bagdad U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld with soldiers during a visit to Baghdad. (REUTERS/David Hume Kennerly)

PAUL GIGOT: Melanie, just in the last couple of days the Army Guard has announced that in the last couple of months they've missed their recruiting targets by about 30 percent, and they're going to double the bonuses to try to make up for that. You've covered military affairs issues for us. Let's step back a bit and explain to our viewers why the Guard and the Reserve are in Iraq in such force to begin with.

Melanie KirkpatrickMELANIE KIRKPATRICK: Well, given the way our military was reconfigured after the Vietnam War, we had no choice. The military was configured so that active duty forces could go in fast, fight a war, and then leave. And a lot of the specialties that are needed in a place like Iraq, post-combat, are things like military police, support troops, psychological operations, civil affairs. And those specialties have tended to be in the National Guard and the Reserve, not in the active duty military. So of course, those are the people who are needed now. That's why they're there.

PAUL GIGOT: So it is a matter of configuration. It's a specialty. We had a military that as it shrunk after Vietnam and at the end of the Cold War, decided to specialize in a way. And the Reserves and the Guard were brought in to be able to buttress specific responsibilities that are now at a premium in Iraq.

MELANIE KIRKPATRICK: That's exactly right. And the Army is being reconfigured under Donald Rumsfeld and Army Chief of Staff Peter Schoomaker to change that, so that a lot of these specialties are now moving into the active duty force. But it's going to take a couple of years.

Kimberley StrasselKIM STRASSEL: Part of the problem here is that we have a force that was set up to be part-time workers, but are now basically performing full-time duties. And they're not getting compensated sort of appropriately for it. So what happened is, this year a number of senators, led by Lindsey Graham, introduced changes with a Defense Appropriations Bill. The most important one was a change in health care benefits. Before, if you were in the National Guard you only had access to Tricare, which is the military health plan, while you were serving. Now, for every 90 days you serve you are eligible for up to a year of that health care coverage, which is going to make a big difference, especially in this age of rising health care costs.

But there are some other things, too, that had to do with lowering retirement ages for people who were serving full-time active duty. And also tax breaks that make up the difference between civilian and Reserve pay. These should all help a lot.

MELANIE KIRKPATRICK: Another big issue is training of Iraqi security forces. Eighteen of 27 battalions are already on line, and they're going to do a lot of what U.S. military is currently doing, eventually.

PAUL GIGOT: Yeah, it's a shame we didn't train more of those Iraqis in advance --


PAUL GIGOT: -- a lot earlier. Jason, when it comes to this recruitment issue that the Guard has, has that extended to the active services and to the Reserves itself?

Jason RileyJASON RILEY: It hasn't, and that's a good point to make. The attention has been on the National Guard missing some of its targets this year. But both the Reserves and the active duty Army have met their targets. I mean, the back drop of a lot of this discussion are some people who want to suggest that there's some general turn in the public against the war, and these recruitment figures are a part and parcel of that. But the facts don't necessarily back that up.

MELANIE KIRKPATRICK: On that point, if I may -- even within the National Guard the re-enlistment rate is very high, especially for National Guardsmen who have served in Iraq.

PAUL GIGOT: Melanie, what about this question that we often hear raised, that the Army is stretched too thin, that we really do need a larger force? Some people are talking -- well John Kerry in the presidential campaign talked about a 40,000 man larger force, and some people in Congress are now talking about it. Do we need a larger standing Army if we're going to continue to do projects and missions like Iraq? Or is it just a matter of reconfiguring it?

Melanie KirkpatrickMELANIE KIRKPATRICK: It's a bit of both, I think. If we're going to continue to do operations like Iraq or Bosnia, which we just left this month after nine years --

PAUL GIGOT: Yeah, that's just amazing.

MELANIE KIRKPATRICK: -- we are going to need more people under arms, I think.

PAUL GIGOT: Kim, a lot of focus this week has been on Donald Rumsfeld's responsibility for some of these issues. What blame to you think he gets for this?

KIM STRASSEL: Most of the calls for his resignation have gone back again and again to the same old argument about inadequate troop levels but the fact still remains that Rumsfeld made this decision based on the recommendation of the joint chiefs and the commanders who were in the field, following on those recommendations, now we are increasing troop levels from 138,000 to 150,000 in the run up to the election. This is about Rumsfeld actually listening to people that know.

Paul Gigot PAUL GIGOT: If we don't have enough troops, and you can argue that we haven't at some point in the war, the troops we didn't have were Iraqis that ultimately ought to be fighting to liberate their country. But we didn't train enough of them early enough. As far as the insurgency goes, I don't remember many people who predicted that there would be an insurgency at this level. The force we sent in early was supposed to be for a quick victory -- which was achieved -- but not to fight an insurgency. We all have some responsibility, not just the secretary of defense, any one who supported the war, in any case.