Skelton quizzes Pentagon about military readiness

Rep. Ike Skelton (D-Mo.), the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, quizzed Secretary of Defense Robert Gates about the preparedness levels of the 12,000 National Guard soldiers scheduled to deploy to Iraq in December.

Skelton, whose top priority this year is military readiness, sent a letter to Gates Tuesday looking for answers on what the Pentagon is doing to ensure that the soldiers have all required force-protection equipment and are fully prepared for their missions.

“As you know, I am very concerned about Army readiness,” Skelton wrote. “Testimony before the House Armed Services Committee has confirmed that the Army is under enormous stress and strain because of frequent deployments to Iraq. Our non-deployed forces are facing serious readiness challenges as well.”

Skelton also sounded alarm about the top U.S. commander’s reported request to extend by four months the deployments of five brigades that are currently scheduled to come back this summer.

“If these reports are accurate, I want to express my concerns about the effect these proposed deployment extensions will have on overall Army readiness and morale, as well as the morale of our service members’ families,” Skelton wrote. “I write this letter to you with the highest respect and affection for the American soldier. This is a sentiment that I know you share. But I must ask you, Mr. Secretary, where does this end?”