Military Stretched Thin On Troops & Equipment genre: Just Jihad & Six Degrees of Speculation

Soldiers in training

There are growing signs of military fatigue amongst troops scheduled for redeployment in shorter time frames than expected and many of these troops are new to their brigades and have not had the benefit of training on the equipment they may need to operate once they are sent overseas. The New York Times details a number of the issues facing a military stretched thin by over three years of conflict in both Afghanistan and Iraq.

The enormous strains on equipment and personnel, because of longer-than-expected deployments, have left active Army units with little combat power in reserve. The Second Brigade, for example, has only half of the roughly 3,500 soldiers it is supposed to have. The unit trains on computer simulators, meant to recreate the experience of firing a tank’s main gun or driving in a convoy under attack.

“It’s a good tool before you get the equipment you need," Colonel James said. But a few years ago, he said, having a combat brigade in a mechanized infantry division at such a low state of readiness would have been “unheard of."

Other than the 17 brigades in Iraq and Afghanistan, only two or three combat brigades in the entire Army — perhaps 7,000 to 10,000 troops — are fully trained and sufficiently equipped to respond quickly to crises, said a senior Army general.

After coming from Iraq in 2003, the Third Infantry Division was sent back in 2005. Then, within weeks of returning home last January, it was told by the Army that one of its four brigades had to be ready to go back again, this time in only 11 months. The three other brigades would have to be ready by mid-2007, Army planners said.

Yet almost all of the division’s equipment had been left in Iraq for their replacements, and thousands of its soldiers left the Army or were reassigned shortly after coming home, leaving the division largely hollow. Most senior officers were replaced in June.

It doesn't appear to be an ideal time to enlist or to sign on for additional years of service. Frankly, it seems to me that many parents would be hard pressed to encourage their children to enlist and for those who do have children in service, it must be fully disheartening to read stories of this nature. I can't imagine the anxiety that exists in families that are forced to deal with the uncertainty that surrounds the frequency of deployment as well as the prospects of the end of military operations in these troubled countries.

The brief time at home does not sit well with some soldiers. Specialist George Patterson, who re-enlisted after returning from Iraq in January, said last week that he was surprised to learn he could end up being home with his wife and daughter for only a year.

“I knew I would be going back," Specialist Patterson said. “Did I think I would leave and go back in the same year? No. It kind of stinks."

Instead of allowing more than a year to prepare to deploy, the First Brigade training schedule has been squeezed into only a few months, so the brigade can be ready to deploy as ordered by early December. Though the unit has not yet been formally designated for Iraq, most soldiers say there is little doubt they are headed there early next year.

The division has only a few dozen fully armored Humvees for training because most of the vehicles are in use in Iraq. Nor does it have all the tanks and trucks it is supposed to have when at full strength.

Standing at a training airfield with three of the aircraft nearby, Sgt. Mark Melbourne, the senior noncommissioned officer for the brigade’s unmanned aerial vehicles platoon, said only 6 of the brigade’s 15 operators had qualified so far in operating the aircraft from a ground station.

I can't help but wonder about the impact from the fact that neither the President nor the Vice President has a hands-on appreciation for actual military experience in a combat setting. Given the recent debate over the treatment of detainees and the reservations expressed about interrogation methods by numerous former prisoners of war, it seems that the myopic approach of the neocons in power has the potential to put soldiers in positions of peril...both from a lack of training and the risk of mistreatment should they be captured by the enemy.

One has to respect the discipline and restraint exhibited by those in service. Given the vocal protestations of numerous former soldiers and officers, it seems safe to conclude that moral within the military must be in decline. One can only hope that those in high positions within the military have the compassion and leadership to challenge those directives that put our soldiers at risk in these trying times. I fear that our political leaders are unaware or unwilling to acknowledge the stress that their absolutist rhetoric places upon our military leadership to meet the expectations of the administration...despite what is likely their better judgment.

Daniel DiRito | September 25, 2006 | 8:35 AM
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