Our military’s readiness to respond to threats at home and abroad has been put at substantial risk by our continued engagement in Iraq. Shortages in equipment and properly trained troops, especially in the Army and National Guard, are approaching levels that threaten our ability to protect our national security.
Currently, 40% of the U.S. Army’s ground equipment is stationed in Iraq or Afghanistan. Since the war began, the Army has lost over 1,000 wheeled vehicles and nearly 100 armored vehicles. Due to harsh conditions and increased usage, equipment is wearing out up to nine times the peacetime rate, adding the equivalent of 27 years worth of wear since the start of the war.
Retooling and replacing damaged equipment won’t be cheap. Army Chief of Staff General Peter Schoomaker has testified that he needs $17.5 billion to restore Army equipment to its former fighting condition, plus $12 billion annually for at least two years after the war in Iraq and Afghanistan has ended. Marine Corps officials have said they need $11.7 billion to restore their equipment. For both services, equipment shortfalls have reached critical levels.
In the area of recruiting, the Iraq war is also taking a serious toll. In 2005, the Army missed its recruiting goal by more than 8%, or almost 6700 soldiers. This shortage of available troops has forced the Army into offering expensive signing bonuses to retain currently serving soldiers and has led to a relaxation in the standards of who is allowed to join. We also have what some call a “backdoor draft” (not letting service members leave when their tours are complete and extending combat deployment of units in Iraq) in order to retain our current force strength.
Because American causalities are coming home at the fastest rate since Vietnam (the total number of injured and killed in Iraq and Afghanistan each month is roughly equal to a battalion) the pressure to meet quotas is having other negative repercussions. In a recent GAO study, it was found the number of alleged and substantiated cases of wrong-doing by military recruiters to be increasing, as they seek to convince people to serve under more difficult conditions.
Securing the homeland and defending our interests around the globe depend on the U.S. military being highly advanced and always at the ready. There’s no question we have the best personnel and most sophisticated weaponry in the world. But if these resources are not ready and available to be deployed, we will be unable to achieve our potential to protect the national security at home and abroad. Due to our engagement in Iraq, now in its fourth year, our military’s resources are reaching this dangerous point.