In her bill, Tauscher proposes adding 20,000 soldiers to the Army, which would bring its total end strength to 532,400. Of those 20,000 additional troops, 6,000 would be highly trained special operators. Meanwhile, Tauscher also wants to add 12,000 Marines to the military and increase Air Force and Navy rosters by 2,000 troops each — all special forces.
The legislation also stipulates that Congress reevaluate the numbers in five years to determine whether operations continue to demand the same end-strength levels.
Tauscher, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, introduced similar legislation in December 2003. Provisions of her bill eventually were revised and included as part of the 2005 defense authorization bill, which mandated increases of 30,000 and 9,000 troops for the Army and Marine Corps, respectively.
Some military analysts have suggested augmenting the Army’s active-duty roster with as many as 100,000 new soldiers even as the Pentagon begins slowly to decrease the number of U.S. troops in Iraq. Currently, around 140,000 U.S. troops are deployed to Iraq; by next year, that number could be cut to around 105,000.
Still, operational tempo is expected to remain high for the next several years. The California Democrat said in an interview Tuesday that she is introducing the new legislation “because our troops are overstretched and overcommitted,” with constant deployments to Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere.
The Army has fallen short of its recruitment goals since February, but Pentagon officials have said they expect to make those numbers up by the end of the year. Meanwhile, National Guard and Reserve recruitment is on a similar decline this year. The Army and Army Reserve met their recruitment goals last year, while the National Guard missed its target.
“They are desperate for relief in the military, and it is showing in recruiting and retention numbers,” Tauscher said.
Proponents of increasing the size of the military say constant deployments make a career in the military less appealing, particularly among the ranks of reservists no longer considered just “weekend warriors.”
But others say that more factors are affecting recruitment.
“The global war on terrorism, lower propensity to serve and negative feedback from influencers, coupled with the improving economy and the lower unemployment, present … a very challenging recruiting environment for all of us,” Lt. Gen. Franklin Hagenbeck, the Army’s deputy chief of staff for personnel, said at an April 5 Senate Armed Services Personnel Subcommittee hearing.
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and other Pentagon leaders have long been opposed to congressionally authorized end-strength increases. Instead, they prefer to increase the numbers in the services — particularly the Army — on a more temporary basis and pay for that out of emergency supplemental appropriations.
Tauscher and other Democrats heartily disagree.
“Iraq is not an emergency; Iraq is a two-year engagement that could go on for at least five to seven years,” she said. “It is ridiculous to propose that Iraq wasn’t a planned engagement and that it isn’t a planned engagement.”
Many in the Pentagon see end-strength boosts as a last resort to be used only after all other options are exhausted. Dramatically increasing personnel is a costly endeavor — estimated at roughly $1.2 billion per 10,000 soldiers — and could have heady effects on the military’s long-term transformation plans. It also requires substantial investment in other areas.
“They are concerned that an increase in end strength and a requirement to meet that would not be accompanied by resources needed to recruit and train to the point where it would be useful,” said Robert Goldich, a national defense specialist at the Congressional Research Service. “Rumsfeld has been so firm on the subject of not increasing end strength.”
To get the most out of its current force, the Army is in the middle of converting its division-based brigades into smaller, more “modular” brigade combat teams expected to be more agile and effective in combat. Service leaders also are converting thousands of military jobs into more high-demand positions.
“Now, what happens is that’s all great theoretically but you bump right into the realities of the fiscal resources to do that, and manpower is a very expensive field,” Gen. Peter Schoomaker, the Army’s top officer, said during a speech Monday. “It makes no sense for us to go in that direction until we have sorted out fixing the inefficiencies and the ineffectiveness of the force that we already have.”
Tauscher said she expects wide support for the bill, which received an “early rush” of support. As of yesterday morning, the bill had garnered 30 Democratic co-sponsors.
Thirty-one lawmakers signed on to her December 2003 bill. Tauscher said she expects almost double that number this year and hopes to get the support of many Republicans.
A Pentagon spokeswoman said the department will not comment on pending legislation.