Increasing the Size of the Military to Meet the Needs of our Country
By Tom Cole
The arrests in the United Kingdom and Pakistan in the last week prove the fight against terror is a worldwide engagement. While the War on Terror presents many new challenges to our Intelligence community, it also places many demands on our military personnel. With the many missions and requirements currently upon the U.S. military, we are placing a heavy responsibility on our service men and women. Deployment time has increased and many National Guard and Reservists have been called up to active duty. The army has implemented new stop loss regulations, keeping soldiers from leaving the service after they return from Iraq, Afghanistan and other fronts in the war against terrorism. I believe it is essential to increase the size of the military in order to meet the demands of the day and age.
The size of the U.S. military was greatly reduced in the past decade. Between 1992 and 2000, the Clinton Administration and Congress cut national defense by more than half a million personnel and $50 billion in inflation-adjusted dollars. Despite these force reductions, military missions and operations tempo continue to increase. Now, active and reserve component manpower is insufficient to meet and sustain the full range of missions assigned to the Armed Forces. We must rebuild our military force in order to be successful in the War or Terror while also meeting the needs of members of the military and their families.
As a member of the House Armed Services Committee, I am deeply concerned about our military and the brave men and women who have volunteered to defend our nation. This year, the committee made a very important decision to increase the size of the military to meet the demands of the War on Terror. We voted to increase the active duty Army by 30,000 soldiers and the Marine Corps by 9,000 personnel over the next three years. Permanently increasing the size of our military will provide additional manpower to make rotations in and out of combat more predictable. It will also place less strain on Reservists who often have to leave regular jobs, placing great demands on their families.
Military personnel strength increases can be achieved through the existing recruitment and retention system. Soldiers are continuing to re-enlist at historic rates. The Pentagon has been closely monitoring the re-up rate for five Army divisions that fought in Iraq for a year and the numbers for the first half of fiscal year 2004 show that those five combat units met, or nearly met, all retention targets for enlisted soldiers. Recruitment and retention during fiscal year 2003 proved to be successful for the military services, continuing the positive trends that began during fiscal year 2001. In terms of recruit quality, fiscal year 2003 was highly successful, as measured by the percentage of recruits who were high school diploma graduates and the percentage that possessed above average test scores. In some cases, the level of recruit quality was the best recorded in a decade.
Since September 11, 2001, the United States military has proven itself to be flexible and adaptive in meeting the operational demands of the new security environment. We must continue this trend and I believe this involves increasing the size of our Armed Forces and making sure they have the resources they need to keep our country secure. I believe this will be possible by increasing our defense budget and continuing to recruit able and willing individuals. The President recently signed the Defense Appropriations Conference Report for FY 2005 that will provide a $23.8 billion increase in defense spending over FY 2004. While this legislation does much to modernize and strengthen our military, it does not have enough funds to allow for a permanent expansion in manpower without reducing expenditures on other vital programs. I will work with my colleagues to address this issue next year in the defense funding bill. We must not allow anyone to shortchange our military.