Rumsfeld Plan Would Deemphasize Reserves

Times Staff Writer

With the war in Iraq severely straining the military, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld this week ordered radical changes that, if adopted, would dramatically reshape the military services and the reserves to create a force that could mobilize for war within 15 days.

In a memo Wednesday to the secretaries of the Air Force, Navy, Army and to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Rumsfeld called for shifting a broad range of professional specialties from the reserves to active-duty military.

The proposal is running into opposition from senior Navy and Air Force officials, who warn that moving these jobs into the active-duty force would drive up costs. Reserve officials say they were stunned by the proposal, which they fear would shrink the role of citizen soldiers into irrelevance. Rumsfeld’s office could not be reached for comment.


Calling the effort “a matter of the utmost urgency” in the memo obtained by The Times, Rumsfeld ordered that plans for carrying it out be drawn up by the end of the month.

Senior military officials who are working to respond to Rumsfeld’s order expressed some concern Friday that he is not allowing enough time to produce a thoughtful plan.

“There’s a very tight timeline to do it right,” said one senior military official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Rumsfeld’s action was a direct result of the crisis in force strength caused by the deepening violence against U.S. forces in Iraq, sources close to him in the Pentagon said.

Before and during the war, Army officials had planned for no more than 50,000 soldiers to still be in Iraq at this point. But 148,000 are still there, and with attacks against them growing in number and sophistication, senior Pentagon officials say they expect troop numbers in the country will remain at or near the same level for years to come.

As the war on terrorism continues, more than 370,000 Army troops are deployed away from home and family in 120 countries around the world. About 138,000 are reservists, many in certain specialties that are being called up again and again. Another 67,000 reservists from the other military services are also deployed. Current and former army officials and military experts are warning, with growing urgency, that the all-volunteer military, 30 years old this month, cannot long tolerate the pressure.


“The U.S. Army in particular is at serious risk, because it’s increasingly clear, and the administration increasingly acknowledges, that we’re in Iraq for a long haul, with a large force, and the Army is being given most of, if not all of, the responsibility,” said Brookings Institution military analyst Michael O’Hanlon.

“This volunteer military we’ve built up is one of the best military institutions in human history, and the Bush administration will risk destroying that accomplishment if they keep on the current path.”

Rumsfeld is trying to deal with the problem by shifting more troops into active duty -- and by eliminating or reducing the combat role traditionally played by reservists, civilians who train with their units part time until they are called up for active duty.

Rumsfeld suggests making more use of contractors, civilians and computers to do work that is tying up active-duty soldiers. He suggests special attention be paid to relieving pressures on such reserve units as civil affairs that have been called up repeatedly for deployments to Somalia, Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq.

He left it to the services to recommend which specific units should be shifted.

It is unclear whether, or how much, his plan would increase the overall size of the active-duty Army, although Army brass are already arguing that, even without the sort of shift Rumsfeld is proposing, the service needs more troops to fulfill its mission. Even if the services come up with plans quickly, as Rumsfeld has asked, Congress would have to approve the plan and it would take years to put into effect.

Still, senior defense officials say the changes would be the most significant to the active-duty and reserve forces since the introduction of the all-volunteer force in 1973.


Since that time, a military traumatized by Vietnam -- a war fought by draftees -- has wholeheartedly embraced the “citizen soldier” concept. A volunteer military, supplemented by a robust reserve force, is meant to ensure that political leaders and ordinary citizens have more of a stake in the military -- and are less likely to send troops into battle without popular support.

Acting on that idea, the active duty moved many of the specialties needed to fight a war -- security, intelligence, transportation and logistics -- over to reservists and the National Guard.

But the force that resulted was not designed to be in a state of constant mobilization. It currently takes from one to three months to mobilize most reserve units. Although some units are designed to deploy quickly, most must first undergo intensive training in the United States before being shipped out.

“The type of war that we’re in, the war on terrorism, is going to be something that is going to require long-term commitments of our armed forces. And the way that we’re structured right now is to have conflicts where you send people over, they fight, and they go home,” one Pentagon official said. “The war on terrorism is a much longer, twilight struggle.”

That struggle is putting unprecedented strains on the military -- and the Army in particular, which shoulders the burden of peacekeeping and nation-building operations more than any other service. In recent weeks, Army officials have repeatedly and insistently told Rumsfeld that the service needs more soldiers to handle its new duties.

Before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Army officials had openly voiced concern that Rumsfeld would seek to cut as many as two of the Army’s 10 divisions. After the attacks, Rumsfeld has continued to insist that Army troops should be deployed in different places around the globe, and in new ways, but he has not proposed slashing troop numbers.


At his retirement ceremony June 11, departing Army Chief of Staff Gen. Eric K. Shinseki cautioned to “beware the 12-division strategy for a 10-division Army.” And a Pentagon official said in an interview this week that the request by the Army for more soldiers has been “taken to the highest levels” of the Pentagon.

In the months leading up to and during the war, every one of the military services began “stop-loss” orders, preventing soldiers on active duty from retiring even if they wanted to and, critics say, effectively turning the idea of the volunteer military on its head. Although those orders have been lifted, if current deployment rates continue as expected, tens of thousands of active-duty troops and reservists can expect a life continually on the road.

Because of the relative lack of troop strength, a typical soldier spending 2003 in Iraq may come home this winter only to be deployed again in late 2004 or 2005. The typical reservist might be deployed for another 12 months over the next few years. Civil affairs specialists, military police and intelligence specialists in the reserves are in particularly high demand, because the regular Army has few such specialists in its ranks.

Publicly, Rumsfeld has been dismissive of increasing the size of the Army -- which is under far greater stress than the other services -- any time soon, telling senators at a hearing on Capitol Hill this week that a well-thought-out rotation of forces in and out of Iraq should be adequate to meet the requirements of the military operation there without putting undue strain on troops.

But he has long complained that many of the jobs being done by active-duty soldiers might be done more cheaply and efficiently by civilian contractors.

“Something in the neighborhood of 300,000 men and women in uniform [are] doing jobs that aren’t for men and women in uniform,” Rumsfeld told the Senate Armed Service Committee on Wednesday, when he was repeatedly peppered with questions from Democrats and Republicans about the strain on troops. “They’re doing civilian functions, and they shouldn’t be doing civilian functions.”


Rumsfeld’s explanation did not appear to satisfy lawmakers. Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.), a graduate of West Point, told Rumsfeld: “We’re reaching the point where we have to go ahead and bite the bullet and put more forces in our force structure so we can rotate those troops who are doing so well and serving so proudly out of Iraq.”

And Sen. James M. Inhofe (R.-Okla.) told Rumsfeld that for troops, “There’s got to be relief.”

Rumsfeld’s new proposal attempts to solve both problems. He calls in the memo for eliminating “the need for involuntary mobilization (of the National Guard and Reserve) during the first 15 days of a rapid response operation,” and structuring forces “in order to limit involuntary mobilization to not more than one year every 6 years.”

Much of what Rumsfeld recommends has been under discussion by the military services for some time. The Army Reserve, for example, restructured itself a few years ago, and now fewer than 1% of its soldiers are combat troops.

But Rumsfeld’s central proposal to shift some specialized units from the reserves to the regular Army is already meeting resistance.

Senior defense officials who oppose the proposal say shifting specialties like civil affairs from the reserve force to the active-duty military will increase costs to taxpayers. For what it takes to pay for one such active-duty unit, they say, they can field three reserve units, by drawing on civilian reservists who already possess the skills the Army would have to pay to develop in its ranks.


“It’s far more cost-effective having these capabilities in the reserve,” one defense official said.

The officials also say that many reserve units can be mobilized much more rapidly than Rumsfeld gives them credit for.

But Army officials say that only by mobilizing almost exclusively active-duty soldiers can the nation be ready for war in 15 days, Rumsfeld’s goal.

“It makes sense to go to 15 days,” one official said. “We’ve been working on that.”



On reserve

Deployed reserve forces in support of the global war on terrorism and Operation Iraqi Freedom:

Army National Guard: 75,000

Army Reserve: 63,000

Marine Corps Reserve: 21,000

Air National Guard: 18,000

Air Force Reserve: 14,000

Naval Reserve: 10,000

Coast Guard Reserve: 4,000

Total: 205,000

Source: Dept. of Defense