Army urges service growth

Recruiting enough people to field more combat teams could prove difficult

Recruiting and retention numbers for June 2007

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As operations in Iraq continue to strain the Army, service leaders are weighing options to accelerate the growth of the ground service, military officials say. Early this year, Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced plans to expand the ranks of the active-duty Army by 65,000, which would bring the total number from 518,000 to 547,000 by fiscal 2012.

That expansion would increase the number of brigade combat teams from 42 to 48 by fiscal 2013, officials said. In addition, the Army National Guard would grow by 8,000 and the Reserve by 1,000 through fiscal 2013, military officials say.

Army Chief of Staff Gen. George Casey, who was commander of the Multi-National Force-Iraq until February, is exploring options to accelerate those timelines, with the goal of having 48 brigade combat teams before 2013, Army Lt. Gen. David Melcher told Federal Computer Week following his speech this month at AFCEA International’s Army IT Day conference. Melcher is the service’s deputy for budget in the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Financial Management and Comptroller.

He declined to say by how much Casey wants to speed the service’s growth, saying only the chief of staff envisions a slight acceleration of the original timeline. Melcher said the Army could have difficulty recruiting enough people to meet
a compressed growth schedule. However, he added, no one is talking about the need for a military draft.

One military source familiar with the deliberations said Casey’s thinking likely is driven by operations in Iraq, which are now in their fifth year. “When you look at potential drawdown timelines, the forces [to support those timelines] just may not be there,” the source said.

Tammy Schultz, who tracks the Army’s expansion plans as a research fellow at the Center for a New American Security, said continuity in accelerating the service’s growth will be a crucial factor.

“Can they do it? They’re doing heroically thus far in the face of many critics who have said it was not possible to retain and recruit what they have been retaining and recruiting,” she said. “But whether they can keep that up is another story.”

Schultz said a much-anticipated progress report on the war in Iraq likely will spark a renewed debate in Washington about what force levels the Defense Department can sustain in Iraq. The commander of coalition forces in Iraq, Army Gen. David Petraeus, is expected to deliver that report to Congress in September.

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