In a long-overdue policy reversal, Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced Jan. 11 that the Bush administration would finally begin increasing the sizes of the active-duty Army and Marine Corps on a permanent basis. Altogether, the military will permanently add 92,000 active-duty troops to the Army (65,000) and the Marine Corps (25,000). That is a good start.
The Army will rise to 547,000 soldiers, and the Marine Corps will have an eventual end-strength of 202,000 Marines. The Army’s projected total of 547,000 soldiers compares to a postVietnam/Cold War average of 777,000 soldiers (1975-89) and a post-Cold War demobilized force that averaged 485,000 soldiers (1996-02). During the same periods, active-duty Marines averaged 194,000 (1975-89) and 174,000 (1996-02)
Compared to this year, when its endstrength will reach 512,000, the Army will add only 35,000 troops (or fewer than 7 percent). That is because 30,000 (or nearly half) of the total permanent increase of 65,000 in the Army will have already been added by the end of this year. Previously, that increment of 30,000 troops was classified as a temporary increase. The new policy makes that “temporary” increase permanent. Amazingly, three years after the war in Iraq began and the Army’s deploymentreadiness situation had already reached a crisis, the 2006 Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) actually projected eliminating the 30,000 temporary troops by 2011, when then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld expected the Army to return to an end-strength of 482,000.
Today’s force of 180,000 Marines includes only 5,000 temporary troops, who will also become permanent. Hence, the eventual permanent endstrength of the Marine Corps (202,000) will represent a 22,000 (12 percent) increase over today’s total.
According to Mr. Gates’ timetable, the Army plans to add 7,000 soldiers per year over five years, and the Marine Corps will increase by 5,000 Marines per year until it reaches 202,000. Even if Congress seeks to accelerate that timetable, it is certain that the additional forces still would not be available in sufficient quantities soon enough to solve the Pentagon’s readiness crisis. Therefore, Mr. Gates announced a second policy shift. This involves the involuntary mobilization of the Army National Guard and the Army Reserve. The new policy will limit an involuntary deployment to one year, but it eliminates, at least for now, the five-year period of demobilization. That means that tens of thousands Guardsmen and Reservists who were mobilized as recently as two and three years ago can expect to return to Iraq and Afghanistan in the not-too-distant future.