A desperate Army is scraping the bottom
By JOSEPH L. GALLOWAY
An Army already stretched painfully thin is now being asked to find the additional 25,000-plus troops to man President Bush's escalation in Iraq and, it's now obvious, prepare for additional combat rotations next year.
All the easy sweeping up of manpower already has been done. All the obvious moves to rob Peter to pay Paul have been carried out just to keep this unending war going.
Now comes the hardest part: Units that are completing their second or third yearlong combat tours are being extended for another four or six months. Other units, now home for their promised 12 months with their families, are being told they will go back to combat sooner than that.
Army National Guard units that'd already served the maximum time on active duty, in combat, are being told that the rules have changed, and they're again being called back for Iraq service.
It doesn't matter that those Guard units were ordered to leave virtually all of their equipment in Iraq and have had none of it replaced so that they might actually train for the eventuality that has befallen them. Nor does it matter that there may not be equipment and vehicles waiting for them in Iraq when they get there.
Nor does it seem to matter that, four years into this war, there still aren't enough sets of body armor to provide one for every soldier sent to Iraq in this escalation.
Or that in the fervent search for bodies to fill the quotas the Army has begun combing the lists of wounded soldiers and re-evaluating their fitness to return to the war, rating some soldiers who are no longer physically able to even wear the 35 pounds of body armor good to go.
That might be one solution to the scandalous treatment of soldiers on outpatient status at Walter Reed Army Hospital - rate them good to go and send them back to Iraq.
The Army, that once-magnificent Army we counted on as our shield in a dangerous world, is being bled to death in the streets and on the roads of Iraq and Afghanistan.
Politicians only now are talking about adding 100,000 more soldiers to the Army and Marine Corps, when that's something that should have begun on Sept. 12, 2001.
Where and how do they propose to find and enlist 10,000 or 20,000 more troops each year when it is literally all the recruiters can do to find enough young men and women to fill the existing quota of at least 80,000 each year?
Again, all the cheap fixes have been used. They've raised the maximum age for enlistment from 35 to 42. Should we kick that higher, say 65? Then you would have your choice: Medicare or boot camp?
We've doubled the number of convicted felons permitted to enlist. We've lowered the minimum standards to allow for more high school dropouts, more people who test in the lowest quarter on mental aptitude, more people who are tattooed from elbow to ear.
And we've boosted enlistment bonuses to $25,000. Sign on the dotted line, young man, and you're on your way to boot camp and Iraq with money in your pocket.
Of course, if the economy does a meltdown there could be a boom in enlistments and all our problems would be solved.
If this war continues much longer it may be hard to postpone that economic meltdown. The Defense Department budget is now running at half a trillion dollars annually. The war in Iraq costs more than $2 billion a week. The long-term costs of Bush's great adventure in taking down the late and unlamented Saddam Hussein are now estimated at perhaps $2.5 trillion when lifetime health care for thousands of wounded and disabled soldiers and Marines is figured in.
If the war ended today it would cost $65 billion to repair and replace the equipment worn out or destroyed in Iraq.
All of these costs are being pushed down the line to be borne by our children and grandchildren and their children in the form of burgeoning budget deficits seen and, as yet, unseen.
When is someone, somewhere in this country going to stand up and demand an accounting for all we've lost in a foolish, unjustified and unnecessary war in the wrong place, against the wrong people, at the wrong time - conducted by a president who got every bit of it wrong?
When are we going to cut our incredible losses in Iraq - human, spiritual and monetary - and get back on the road to being a better country and a better people whose leaders believe, as we do, in the U.S. Constitution and habeas corpus and the right to privacy?