Another Endstrength Increase … When’s the Drawdown?

Defense Secretary (and Occasional Superhero) Robert M. Gates announced a temporary personnel increase for the U.S. Army. Gates floated a number of 30,000 during a speech at Fort Drum, N.Y. The official figure is set at 22,000 soldiers. Temps. Nonpermanent additions to the senior service’s rolls.

Our question: When does the drawdown begin?

This latest increase is supposedly good for just three years. Given its relatively small size (though it will push the Army’s size to 569,000 troops), attrition should absorb a similar reduction on the other end. But this is “The Long War,” not “The Three-Year War.” Will the 22,000 be extended beyond three years? Will additional soldiers be added (again and again) to compensate for the inability to deploy increasing numbers to Afghanistan? Will these numbers balance the talent lacking to time unit rotations? (Admittedly, these are leading questions.)

It might have crossed a few minds that “temporary” increase(s) might become permanent through need or inertia. But at some point the zombie effect will lift and someone will exclaim, “Holy manpower, Batman! We need to ‘right size’ the force.” History has chronicled the repeated growth of the armed forces followed by a near complete gutting of each service, only to see the force swell a few years later just to be dismantled again. Cost savings have been debated. One of the most astonishing peacetime slash and toss endeavors was during the 1990s. You might recall it was a time of slow (nearly impossible) promotions. Augmentation slots seemed to fill before a year group even was eligible. Finally, in the desperate attempt to “right size” (quite possibly one of the most annoying feel-good terms ever), the services were paying people to leave. While the severance was appropriate, it often had unintended results. In the “Hey, I can be bought” approach to military service, some specialties, like Marine Corps ground supply, stampeded out the fire exit. It was haphazard and poorly managed. Draw downs have seen talent leave and the lesser qualified remain, weakening services for the years.

Gates is still in the “plus-up, we-must-win-this-war” phase. How much larger can he make the Army and Marine Corps? If the formula is still three support soldiers for every one combat soldier, Gates has bought himself just over 5,000 combat troops. Where does that get him? Probably not close enough, unless this targets projected casualties? Though he says DoD will fund the 22,000 initially, Gates will seek money from Congress for the last two years of the program.

The plus-up is essentially a Hail Mary pass. Does plus-up mean stop-gap? Who will remember these men and women down the road when the drawdown puts them on the street?

History can be a good predictor.

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