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Downsizing seen as problem by many in military Plan to lift gay ban also cited in poll


WASHINGTON -- Petty Officer Jimmy E. Forbis, a 20-year-old yeoman based in Charleston, S.C., has been in the Navy just a little over a year. But he can already feel the pinch of the shrinking military all around him.

His ship, the guided-missile frigate Hawes, is likely to remain in the fleet, but Petty Officer Forbis and his shipmates will increasingly have to compete with sailors from decommissioned ships if they want to remain part of its crew.

The young sailor's father, an Army enlistee with almost 19 years of service, worries whether he will be permitted to complete a 20-year career and retire with a full pension.

"At the time my father came in, the military was a career choice," said Petty Officer Forbis, one of 2,346 enlisted men and women surveyed by the Los Angeles Times Poll on a range of issues facing the military services. "Now, it's more of a temporary thing . . . They're going to lose a lot of good people that way, and the military will become more average, whereas it used to be considered elite."

Like 52 percent of those surveyed in the nationwide poll, Petty Officer Forbis called the downsizing of the military -- and the resulting troop reductions -- one of the two biggest problems facing the U.S. military. The other, cited by 48 percent as the most pressing problem, is President Clinton's proposal to lift the ban on homosexuals in the military.

Close behind those two "top problems" -- and directly connected to reductions in the ranks brought on by budget constraints and the end of the Cold War -- are low morale and few opportunities for advancement.

The poll clearly illustrates that the drawdown has generated a high level of worry among enlisted service members even though overall, 74 percent indicated that they were generally satisfied with life in the military. Satisfaction levels were roughly the same in the Air Force (79 percent), the Army (78 percent) and the Marines (78 percent), and lowest in the Navy (66 percent).

The findings are the result of a poll of 2,346 enlisted men and women, the first independent poll of military personnel of its kind.

According to the poll, 60 percent of those surveyed said that they either were "very worried" or "somewhat worried" about the possible effects of military downsizing on their careers.

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