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December 17, 2004



PAUL GIGOT: According to this week's figures from the Pentagon, nearly 186,000 National Guard and Reserve personnel are now on active duty. More than 40 percent of the soldiers in Iraq are in the Guard or the Reserve. It is not what they expected, even if they knew it was a possible part of the deal. Often they face the added danger of going into battle with inferior equipment, the kind of thing Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was forced to defend in his now-famous question-and-answer session with the troops.

SPEC. THOMAS WILSON: Our soldiers have been fighting in Iraq for coming up on three years. Now why do we soldiers have to dig through local land fills for pieces of scrap metal and compromise ballistic glass stuff from our vehicles? And why don't we have those resources readily available to us? [CHEERS]

DONALD RUMSFELD: It's a matter of production and capability of doing it. As you know, you go to war with the army you have, not the army you might want or wish to have at a later time.

PAUL GIGOT: We'll elaborate on this in a moment, but first here's a briefing on the National Guard and recruitment from correspondent Celeste Ford.

[Houston Army National Guard training drills]

CELESTE FORD: For decades, the Army National Guard has put up with the nickname "Weekend Warriors." After all, most members are civilians. They train one weekend per month and two weeks every summer. There was little threat of combat until Iraq.

SERGEANT MATTHEW MEAGHER, VERMONT NATIONAL GUARD: It's not a weekend thing. It's not a hang out with my buddies thing. We're serious about our mission.

SHAUNREIKA MOTEN, SENIOR, MACARTHUR HIGH SCHOOL: It's just a really good opportunity. And you get paid for doing all of it.

CELESTE FORD: These men and women of the Army National Guard are trained for what's known as combat support. For example, they are the cooks, the mechanics, and communications experts. They've never played a bigger role. That's why recruitment is now a top priority.

But the National Guard has become a hard sell. This year, it had the worst recruitment rate of any military branch. Two-thirds of the states missed their targets, resulting in a nationwide shortfall of 12 percent. Texas is among the states exceeding their goals.

SERGEANT PIERRE CHATMAN: Any more questions at all? Yes sir?

STUDENT: If you sign up do you have to go over there to Iraq?

SERGEANT PIERRE CHATMAN: Remember this is the United States Military. Even though it's the National Guard in part-time, there's always a possibility. My self personally I've been in it for 16 years. I've never been deployed.

CELESTE FORD: In Houston, this recruiter says the high schools and colleges are critical resources. Before the war he could count on soldiers completing their active duty then joining the National Guard. But now, many of those soldiers are forced to stay in Iraq. That means the Guard must pay special attention to young adults like Shaunreika Moten. She enlisted to pay for college.

CELESTE FORD: And what about the threat of going to Iraq?

SHAUNREIKA MOTEN: After being in basic training for two and a half months, I'm ready. They taught me everything that I need to know out on a battle field.

CELESTE FORD: Shaunreika's focus on college money sounds familiar to Nancy Brown of Vermont. Her 25-year-old son, Ryan, was a college junior whose tuition was paid by the National Guard. After his deployment last March, Ryan became a Humvee driver, one of the most dangerous jobs in Iraq.

NANCY BROWN: He's in a convoy line and he got -- he saw people get hit in front of him. He sees people get hit behind him. This isn't support. It's warfare.

CELESTE FORD: Was your son trained to go to war?


CELESTE FORD: Do you think he's properly equipped?


CELESTE FORD: Her son reassures Brown that his Humvee is armored. But the military says several thousand Humvees still lack protection against land mines and enemy fire.

ARMY CHIEF OF STAFF GENERAL PETER J. SCHOOMAKER: We've produced over 400,000 sets of individual body armor and we are challenged with armored vehicles and all the rest of that.

CELESTE FORD: The Army Chief of Staff recently told Congress about the need for more Humvee armor -- body armor, radios, and machine guns. The issue made headlines this Fall when a group of Reservists refused to make a fuel delivery because their truck had no armor and no security escort.

RECORDING: We, yesterday, we refused to go on a convoy to Taji which is above Baghdad. We had broken down trucks, non armored vehiclesä

CELESTE FORD: Seventeen-year-old Shaunreika was unaware of the shortages until we brought it up.

SHAUNREIKA MOTEN: Hopefully if they call me over, they'll have everything that they need.

NATIONAL GUARD COMMERCIAL: If you want to get through college quickly call 1-800-GO-GUARD.

CELESTE FORD: To build up its image, the National Guard is launching a $42 million marketing campaign. Look for TV spots, newspaper ads, even trendy tee-shirts. The Guard is adding 1400 recruiters nationwide, a 50 percent increase. And it's spending $307 million on incentives -- a 34 percent jump. These include enlistment bonuses for those with critical skills like mechanics, extra money for college, and up to $20,000 to pay off student loans.

PAUL REICKHOFF, OPERATION TRUTH: When you've got over 1,100 soldiers killed and you've got over 8,000 wounded, You're going to need to get real creative on how you attract people to join that organization. The key component's the BLOG.

CELESTE FORD: New York Guardsman Paul Reickhoff returned from Iraq and founded an advocacy group for soldiers. He says poor planning over there is hurting recruitment here, and the benefits can't compensate for the risk.

Why should the public be concerned if there's a shortfall in recruitment?

PAUL REICKHOFF: Because our military as it's built right now cannot accommodate the workload. So it begs the question to talk about the draft. We have to talk about the draft. It may not be a probability, but it's definitely a possibility.

CELESTE FORD: In rural Vermont, soldiers say don't underestimate the power of patriotism.

VERMONT GOVERNOR JIM DOUGLAS: There's no greater example of strength in Vermont than the Vermont National Guard.

CELESTE FORD: Many are like Sergeant Matthew Meagher, who was activated last month for a mission in the Middle East. He enlisted 17 years ago, then re-upped again in July, knowing what might lie ahead for himself, his wife, and their five children.

SERGEANT MATTHEW MEAGHER: It goes to my sense of duty. I wouldn't get out at a time when things are hot, just because they're hot. This is the time that they need me, now more than ever.

CELESTE FORD: The question is whether there are enough people like Sgt. Meagher at a time when benefits and incentives cannot always outweigh the risks of war. This is Celeste Ford reporting.

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 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.

KIM 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 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 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: 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.