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3-star general says Army is too small to do its job

WASHINGTON — WASHINGTON - A senior Army general, breaking with Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and his service's own leadership, said the Army is too small to meet its global commitments and must be substantially increased.

Lt. Gen. John M. Riggs, a decorated Vietnam veteran who is in charge of building an Army for the future, said the force of 480,000 must grow even beyond the 10,000-soldier increase that was endorsed by the Senate last year but failed to win full congressional approval.

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"You probably are looking at substantially more than 10,000," Riggs said in an interview with The Sun. "I have been in the Army 39 years, and I've never seen the Army as stretched in that 39 years as I have today."

Riggs, the first senior active-duty officer to publicly urge a larger Army, had no specific target for force structure, saying it should be resolved by the Army and Pentagon leadership.

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The three-star general said he came to his conclusion over the past year while studying the Pentagon's military strategy requirements, which call for assisting in homeland security, deterring potential foes, engaging in major combat and carrying out peacekeeping operations.

"I don't plan on going out on any crusade on this issue," said Riggs, noting there's a "general agreement" among other senior officers about the need for more soldiers and concerns that an overtaxed Army will hurt recruitment and retention. "It's not my intent to be provocative but to be intellectually honest with my feelings on the strategy and the commitments of the Army."

Rumsfeld and Gen. Peter Schoomaker, the Army's chief of staff, have repeatedly told lawmakers that such increases are not necessary now, contending they would be costly and time-consuming.

Instead, both are working on a variety of plans to reduce the stress on the Army. One would shift thousands of soldiers performing essentially civilian jobs - such as food services or accounting - and return them to military tasks.

Rumsfeld also said last week that while the Army is stretched thin on such missions as Iraq and Afghanistan, where about 10,000 soldiers are deployed, he views the current pace of operations as a "spike" in activity, not a "plateau."

"I see a plateau," Riggs said, pointing to President Bush's repeated warnings that the war on terrorism would be lengthy. "It appears be a longer-term commitment of forces."

Rumsfeld and his aides have become well known within the military for dealing harshly with dissenters. Last year, he fired Army Secretary Thomas E. White, who had been at odds with him over modernizing weapons systems. When Gen. Eric Shinseki, then Army chief of staff, told a Senate hearing last February that it would take "several hundred thousand" U.S. troops to occupy Iraq, he was quickly slapped down by Rumsfeld, who called that estimate "far from the mark."

Rumsfeld has been particularly combative with the Army, which rebuffed his efforts three years ago to reduce the Army from 10 divisions to eight. The defense secretary has long argued that with developments in satellite communications, precision weaponry and stealth, a smaller force can pack more punch than its larger predecessor.

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"What is critical is not always the number of troops; rather it's the capability of the force," Rumsfeld said last week.

Riggs said he has broached the subject of increasing the size of the Army in internal correspondence but has not discussed it with Schoomaker.

"I'm quite sure he's aware of it," said Riggs.

Two weeks ago, Riggs first said publicly that the Army did not have enough soldiers to fulfill its worldwide commitments during a symposium organized by the Association of the United States Army, a private, non-profit educational organization.

He discussed the issue more bluntly and in greater detail in the interview with The Sun.

Eight of the 10 active-duty Army divisions are now rotating in and out of Iraq, while one-third of the Army National Guard's combat battalions have been called to active duty, Riggs said. There are not enough soldiers in the Army to provide for a reasonable rotation schedule of fresh troops into Iraq and for other missions, such as Afghanistan, he said.

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There are about 120,000 Army soldiers in Iraq, a figure expected to drop to 105,000 by May, according to the Pentagon. About 330,000 active and reserve Army troops are deployed to 120 countries, Riggs said.

"I know the Army has a problem reaching its commitments today," he said. "We're not shaped and sized to meet all the commitments we're asked to do."

Riggs' comments are certain to add fuel to the movement on Capitol Hill to boost the total number of soldiers, known by the term "end strength," that is set by Congress. Some lawmakers want to add as many as 40,000 soldiers, and 150 members from both houses are supportive of a larger Army.

"I think [Riggs] has a very precise and a very accurate assessment of the Army, stretched with a long-term commitment," said Sen. Jack Reed, a Rhode Island Democrat and member of the Armed Services Committee, who co-sponsored the amendment with Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska to increase the Army by 10,000 troops. "I'm hearing from people I respect in the military. It's consistent with General Riggs."

Rep. Ike Skelton of Missouri, the senior Democrat on the Armed Services Committee, has pressed for a larger Army for nearly a decade and said lawmakers are now more willing to support it.

"I think you'll see some substantial movement on it this year," said Skelton, noting that Riggs' comments will help. "You have somebody in uniform saying it. It's important. That's the first olive out of the bottle."

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Rumsfeld and Schoomaker are also shifting thousands of high-demand military jobs - such as military police and civil affairs specialists - from the Army National Guard and Reserve back into the active force.

In addition to the active-duty Army, there are about 350,000 part-time soldiers in the Army National Guard, which is run by the states unless called by the president to federal duty; and about 340,000 in the Army Reserve, which comes under Pentagon jurisdiction.

"The question is whether ... permanently raising end strength would or would not be the best solution," Rumsfeld said last week. "We certainly can afford additional men and women in the armed forces if it proves to be necessary."

Schoomaker said in an interview last week with Knight Ridder newspapers that the Army converted 5,000 office jobs that had been done by soldiers to civilian jobs, and it is looking to convert 5,000 more. That would free 10,000 people to return to jobs more commonly associated with soldiering.

"We may well come back and say we need more end strength," Schoomaker said in the Knight Ridder interview. But first, he said, "we need to be able to use more of what we are paying for."

Such programs as freeing up soldiers working in civilian-type jobs and reconfiguring the Army's active and reserve forces are necessary, said Riggs, but increasing the total size of the Army must be part of that.

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Rumsfeld has also argued that increasing the size of the Army would be time-consuming and costly, requiring cuts elsewhere in the current $400 billion annual defense budget.

"I think it would take time," Riggs said of increasing the size of the Army, noting that the programs announced by the defense secretary to ease the stress on the force would also take years to implement. The general said the Army could begin by adding increments of 10,000 soldiers each year.

"I do agree it would be expensive," said Riggs, estimating that adding 10,000 soldiers to the Army would cost an additional $1.2 billion per year.

Riggs, 57, is a no-nonsense officer with a Tennessee twang who worked his way up from the enlisted ranks. For the past 2 1/2 years he has been director of the Objective Force Task Force, the Army's organization to develop a lightly armored and technologically superior force for the future that can deploy quickly and handle anything from peacekeeping to major combat.

As a helicopter pilot in Vietnam, Riggs was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, two dozen Air Medals and a Bronze Star.

"He's a smart guy, knows a lot about the Army," said retired Army Gen. Barry McCaffrey, who commanded the 24th Mechanized Division against Iraqi forces in the 1991 Persian Gulf war. "He's just repeating what is widespread throughout the Army."

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McCaffrey, who recently returned from visiting soldiers in Iraq, agreed that with additional Iraq rotations being planned for the end of the year, the Army must be increased in size: "The Army is going over a cliff by this fall. In my judgment we need 80,000 more troops."


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